VentureLab Firm to Market Surge Protection Device

Innovolt poised to market new technology for protecting electronic equipment

Innovolt Inc., a company assisted by Georgia Tech's VentureLab program, has received a technology license from Georgia Tech and is poised to begin testing and marketing a new approach to protecting electronic devices from electricity surges.

The Innovolt device, called a current-inrush voltage surge suppressor, is designed to protect electronic equipment from both current and voltage surges. Traditionally, surge protectors have addressed only voltage surges, said Deepak Divan, a Georgia Tech professor who invented Innovolt's core technology and serves as chairman and chief technology officer for Innovolt.

"I had worked in the power protection area for many years, and I was puzzled that equipment was still being damaged in the field despite the application of transient voltage surge suppression or TVSS devices," Divan explained. "I started digging and found that although lightning strikes are routinely blamed for damage, there is very little data that supports that."

Further research, he says, revealed that the culprit was not voltage surges but current-inrush surges -- electrical current spikes that follow a power disturbance called a voltage sag. Such sags typically show up as a momentary flickering of lights. Then, as electrical flow recovers, current surges can damage every type of electronics equipment from consumer to industrial.

"We have found that for every voltage surge that the equipment faces, there are probably 100 current surges," Divan said. "And it can be a huge jump. On different kinds of typical equipment, we have measured current-inrush surges of 60 times the normal current rating."

In electrical circuits, voltage is an energy-related measure, analogous to water pressure in a pipe. Current is a measure of the flow of charge in a circuit, analogous to the amount of water flowing through a pipe.

Innovolt's answer is the current-inrush voltage surge suppressor (CVSS), based on Divan's patent-pending inventions in the field. Innovolt's protection devices combine current-inrush suppression with the traditional transient voltage surge suppression found in existing surge suppressors.

"We see this as a next generation device, not as a completely different type of technology," Divan said. "The users will not have to wonder if they need voltage or current protection - they will have both."

The company has completed initial product development, and its dual-technology devices are ready for beta testing in the field, says Uday D. Karra, Innovolt's chief executive officer.

Innovolt has secured an exclusive license to the underlying patents and technology from the Georgia Tech Research Corporation, he says, and is seeking early adopter partners to participate in beta testing, as well as second-round funding.

First-round funding for product development has come from various sources. VentureLab has received $50,000 from the Georgia Research Alliance to assist in commercializing the current-inrush technology under license to Innovolt.

Innovolt executives envision a line of equipment protection devices that will help protect anything containing electronics, from televisions and computers to industrial equipment. The company's business model calls for it to both manufacture and license its technology, depending on business opportunities.

Both Divan and Karra are veterans of previous successful business ventures. Divan, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, started Soft Switching Technologies in 1995, developing a line of power line-conditioning products for factories.

Karra recently served as chief software architect and CEO of Lumenor, an Atlanta company that offered financial software and services to banking, energy and telecommunications industries.

"Both of us are seasoned entrepreneurs," Karra said. "Yet VentureLab and Commercialization Services have been of tremendous help in getting this technology out of the lab and into the real world. They've been the facilitators, helping us to navigate through the system."

Georgia Tech's Commercialization Services, a division of the Office of Economic Development and Technology Ventures, helps identify Georgia Tech innovations with potential commercial value. When it finds a promising technology, Commercialization Services either helps negotiate technology-licensing agreements with existing companies, or its VentureLab unit assists fledgling companies through the critical feasibility and first-funding phases.

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Media Relations Contacts: Rick Robinson (404-385-2562); E-mail: (rick.robinson@edi.gatech.edu) or John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail: (jtoon@gatech.edu).

Writer: Rick Robinson