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Charged by nature

Alumni turn heads with wind- and water-powered electronics charger

special feature: Innovation

Part of a special feature showcasing Memorial’s innovation ecosystem, a pan-university effort focused on supporting the development and success of innovators across Newfoundland and Labrador.  

By Jeff Green

A group of alumni turned entrepreneurs didn’t have to look far for inspiration for their latest product.

Living in a country with the most water in the world — and its windiest province — they were literally surrounded by it.

Now, a piece of technology Seaformatics Systems Inc. developed is set to revolutionize how outdoor adventurers stay connected to wireless devices.

Nature powered

The St. John’s-based startup with roots at Memorial has developed a hand-held water turbine, allowing people to charge electronic devices with water and wind.

“We’re producing a suite of turbine products that allow our customers to harness renewable energy in the form of flowing water and wind to power and recharge standalone devices such as personal electronics — think cellphones, cameras and GPS — as well as batteries in watercraft and RVs, and river- and ocean-going sensing systems and observatory nodes,” Andrew Cook, company co-founder and Memorial alumnus, told the Gazette recently.

“Our first product, the WaterLily micro turbine, can capture energy from a flowing river or can be suspended in a windy area to recharge USB re-chargeable devices such as cellphones, action cameras and portable battery banks.”

Memorial connections

The pioneering technology behind the company was developed at Memorial over the last decade.

The SEAformatics Project — as it was originally known as — began developing a prototype seabed instrumentation platform designed to monitor the subsea and seabed environment in 2007.

Dr. Vlastimil Masek, associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, was principal investigator. The project received funding from a number of sources, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Atlantic Innovation Fund and Springboard Atlantic’s Innovation Mobilization Program.

From left are Seaformatics co-founders Andrew Cook, Adam Press, Robert Boyd and Geoff Holden.
From left are Seaformatics co-founders — and Memorial alumni — Andrew Cook, Adam Press, Robert Boyd and Geoff Holden.
Photo: Submitted

Mr. Cook and his fellow co-founders — Adam Press, Geoff Holden and Robert Boyd, who are all Memorial alums — were employed with the project, as well as a followup project led by Husky Energy.

“Without this R&D the company simply wouldn’t exist today,” said Mr. Cook.

He and his team are now commercializing the technology developed at Memorial.

“We believe our technology is easier to setup and use, more efficient, more reliable and less costly in the long term than existing solutions,” he noted.

The company is a current client of the Genesis Centre, Memorial’s award-winning business incubator for technology startups.

Acclaim and exposure

Since launching the WaterLily, the company has caught the attention of customers, curiosity seekers and mainstream media.

Atlantic Business Magazine featured the product in a November 2017 article detailing 25 things invented in Atlantic Canada. The national program Daily Planet featured the product earlier this year.

“I think our future is very bright.” — Andrew Cook

That exposure has piqued a lot of interest in the company’s innovative offerings, says Mr. Cook.

“Our technology is novel and has one patent issued and another in progress at the moment.”

“We launched the product on April 1 of this year and to date we have over 700 customers in 18 countries. As well, we have over 10 million views of our content on Facebook and we have been featured by numerous online, print and television media outlets.”

The WaterLily Micro Turbine allows people to charge electronic devices with water and wind.
The WaterLily micro turbine allows people to charge electronic devices with water and wind.
Photo: Submitted

He says there are direct competitors on the international market but none are as simple to use, efficient and reliable as their product.

“Our customers see value in the ability to charge 24-hours per day versus solar and they recognize the energy limitations that batteries place on their activities. I think our future is very bright.”

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