A new Indiegogo campaign for a slick portable power charger has caught our attention – and we think it just might catch yours as well. River is described as “Your Mobile Power Station and Solar Generator.” And it’s clearly grabbing a lot of interest. The campaign still has a month to go, and has already raised some $140,000 US from backers willing to spend $459 (early bird pricing) on a very portable – and powerful – charging device. More than $100k landed, literally, within about five hours (so don’t be surprised if the campaign is over $140k when you read this).
The company behind the campaign is called EcoFlow Tech. And the man behind the company is called Eli Harris, the CEO and Co-Founder.
TDC actually bumped into Eli back in July in Shenzhen – just a happenstance hello in the lobby of the DJI building. Little did we then know that Harris was working hard on the business development side of commercial drone applications. That meant he was often talking to farmers about precision agriculture, Search & Rescue people about extended operations, or even companies involved in large-scale industrial surveying or inspection.
The common factor in all of those scenarios? People needed power. They would either require large numbers of pre-charged (and not-inexpensive) batteries on location, or else they would have to be able to charge their batteries on site. Usually, that meant bringing along a noisy gasoline generator: Bulky, heavy, smelly, and not terribly eco-friendly.
“It was clear that drone batteries weren’t evolving as quickly as many had hoped, so the idea was to build a solution that would keep drones in the air longer, and it kind of snowballed from there,” he told TDC in a phone interview today from Shenzhen.
Soon, Harris was thinking about other applications where people might want or need access to a small but efficient power supply: Sort of a mini-power station that could simultaneously but efficiently offer up juice for a wide variety of devices: Everything from laptops and phones to small fridges, lights, medical devices – you name it.
Already, Harris (who completed not one but two Fullbright scholarships in Beijing) had found himself inextricably drawn to the technical side of things. He loved learning about technology, examining problems, working with others to think through solutions. He loved batteries in particular, and realized there was a vacuum just waiting to be filled.
“There was really nothing between a Tesla Powerwall and a small power bank for your phone,” he says. “So what we’ve tried to do is really put a stake in the ground and make a step forward in managing lithium ion cells inside our product.”
And that they did – packing 40 LG-produced lithium ion cells inside each River. But it took a lot of ingenuity, plus a new way of thinking about how to better manage existing battery technology. Here’s the impressive result:
“What’s really our secret sauce is the battery management system on top of those cells that regulates the efficiency and safety of those battery cells. So it’s really an innovative piece of technology. The idea is to create this personal energy storage, and not be tied to a power grid.”
You can charge up River a number of ways: Plug it in your car charger, into an AC outlet, or – best of all for those who want to minimize their carbon footprint – with an optional ($259) solar panel charger. Those panels have a 50 watt output, so under optimal sunny conditions you could charge the 412 watt-hour River in about eight hours. (But because there are clouds, and trees, and reality…the company says you can count on a full charge in 12 hours.)
And then, once you do have a full charge, the proprietary battery management system allows River to operate in temperatures from -20 to +60 degrees Celsius. That’s a tremendous range, one Harris hopes “can really add value to rescue operations.”
The product will start shipping in May, and Harris – who is just 23 and has 53 people working full-time – already has plans for down the road.
“We’re taking three more products to market within the next 12 months,” he says. “We are focussed on battery technology, and perhaps we’ll offer a suite of complementary products in the future. They will all be battery products.”
Nice job, Eli. We look forward to seeing this River flow.