Foot-powered phone charger among Project Olympus innovations
Hahna Alexander and Matt Stanton display their project, Sole Power, which charges a cell phone by walking.
The prototype shown here is being redesigned and tested.
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Show-and-Tell is not just for kindergarten anymore. It's a concept even a Ph.D. can grasp.
This evening Project Olympus, the Carnegie Mellon University incubator for companies in the embryonic stage, is showing off some of the latest ideas to come out of the former horse stable that houses the program.
One of the promising ideas to be featured is a system to charge a cell phone by walking, a project developed by Matt Stanton, 22, from Rich, Bucks County; and Hahna Alexander, 22, from Ithaca, N.Y.
The founders of Sole Power, as they've named the project, are students in the mechanical engineering department. Both earned their bachelor's degrees this year and are remaining in Squirrel Hill as they work on their master's degrees -- and their invention.
Mr. Stanton said the charger is the size of an orthotic insert. It has a series of micro-motors inside that spin when stepped on, sending a charge to a cell phone or battery.
The idea is not just a novelty; Mr. Stanton said it could help people around the world. "There are a lot of uses for it, in developing nations and the military as well."
He explained that in some parts of the world there are many cell phone towers, but not always a reliable electrical grid to the villages. If people have ways to power phones, they can use them.
Mr. Stanton is exactly the type of person for whom Project Olympus was designed several years ago. Lenore Blum, a professor in the computer science department and the founding director of Project Olympus, said the idea was to create a place where students and faculty could test the marketability of their ideas.
Test ideas aren't even called companies, they are labeled "probes," which means problem-oriented business exploration. So far there have been 105 probes through Project Olympus since 2007.
Ms. Blum said the program fosters the entrepreneurial spirit of students and professors, giving them access to capital and contacts, while encouraging them to stay in Pittsburgh rather than taking the education they received here and heading out of town.
Of the projects that have gone through the program, 74 have been led by students, both graduate and undergraduate, and 31 have come out of faculty research. There also have been 68 companies formed, 52 of them student-run and 16 from the faculty.
Olympus probes have received a total of $19.6 million in initial venture capital money to develop into companies.
Other probes to be featured in tonight's Show-and-Tell will be Project Aura, a project in which LED lights are hooked onto bicycle tires to make riders more visible at night; Tunessence, a program to teach music; and Capital Round, which is a new way in which innovators can crowdsource venture capital.
The event starts at 5 p.m. at the Rashid Auditorium in the Gates-Hillman Centers and will feature short talks by chemistry professor Danith Ly, who is working on a synthetic DNA for treating and detecting genetic diseases, and Chris Harrison, a Ph.D. candidate working in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute to develop ways to interact with computers other than keyboards or touch screens such as his "Skinput" project in which he is using the human body as a keyboard. Paul Scerri, a professor in the CMU Robotics Institute, will speak about his water-quality testing floating robot.
First Published October 4, 2012 12:00 am