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Student Startup AMPY Turns Movement into Power

AMPY uses inductor technology to capture kinetic energy, store it, and recharge electronics

Imagine charging your smartphone by taking a walk around the block. 

Now you can with AMPY, a handheld device that captures kinetic energy as you move and then converts that energy into an electronic charge. The device, developed by materials science and engineering PhD students Michael Geier, Tejas Shastry, and Alex Smith, is now available to those who donate to the group’s Kickstarter fund.

Developed during the winter 2013 session of NUvention: Energy, a course that brings together students from across Northwestern to build products and services in the sustainable energy industry, the device is garnering major funding and media buzz. But the idea only came to the group after they wrestled with several ideas that lacked feasibility. Then they had a striking realization.

AMPY founders (from left): Tejas Shastry, Mike Geier, Alex Smith“We all had the same problem every day—our phones would die,” said Smith, AMPY’s chief product officer. “We’re all active guys, so we wondered if we could use those burned calories to charge our phones.”

Technologies that harvest energy from movement already existed, but they were all large and never really caught on. “Those products didn’t fit into life,” Smith said. “They tended to be the size of a roll of paper towels, and you can’t take that with you on the go.”

The AMPY team worked to keep the device’s size as small as possible. At half the size of a modern smartphone, it can fit in your pocket or easily strap onto your arm or leg to collect energy as you walk, run, cycle, or simply fidget. AMPY works with patent-pending, proprietary inductor technology that generates electricity to charge an internal battery. The device can store a week’s worth of energy, which can then be used to charge any device with a USB port. A 30-minute run, for example, can give a smartphone a three-hour charge or a smartwatch a 24-hour charge.

If you want to know how much power you’re generating, you can even download an AMPY app that tracks the amount of energy generated and calories burned. “Next, we want to get into wearables integration,” Smith said. “There’s huge potential for our technology to be integrated into the hardware of fitness trackers and smartwatches to provide power. It could free you from plugging them in forever.”

Originally called myPower, AMPY has been a favorite on the startup circuit, winning a total of $100,000 in startup competitions, such as the 2014 Clean Energy Challenge and Cleantech Open Global Forum. The team also won a 2014 Proto Labs Cool Idea! Award, which funded prototype production for pilot testing.

The device has received widespread media attention, appearing in Forbes, Crain’s Chicago Business, CNET, USA Today, and Buzzfeed. Smith also appeared live on Fox Business and CNBC, where viewers voted AMPY as the Tech Crowd Leader of the Week.

To cover manufacturing costs, the AMPY team joined Kickstarter and topped its $100,000 goal in less than 72 hours. Through the campaign, which runs until Sunday, AMPY now has more than 2,200 backers, many who chose to receive an AMPY device and accessories kit that includes an armband, clip, and sleeve.

“The Kickstarter campaign was a test to see if people really want this,” Smith said. “We’ve learned that they do.”