A Marine treks through the desert under a blistering sun.

Considering the radio he relies on for communication to his team, the wearable electronics providing critical geographical and situational awareness, and the portable satellite communication terminal the team uses to communicate with leadership, electronic devices are his only lifeline – he’s lugging 50 pounds of batteries in his pack just to keep them running. If one of these devices loses power, his team could be in danger.

“When you enter an environment where you don’t have reliable power available, you either need to bring your own or harvest it from your environment,” said John Elmes, Ph.D., ApECOR president and industry lead on a Matching Grants Research Program (MGRP) partnership with the University of Central Florida (UCF).

Through a Phase II SBIR supported by the United States Office of Naval Research and Naval Research Laboratory, the MGRP-assisted team has developed a half-pound, user-friendly power manager that can charge multiple batteries simultaneously and can power devices directly when there’s no time to charge.  As small as a deck of cards, the device helps users efficiently harvest power from nearly any energy source, such as a mostly drained battery or solar panel. By more effectively leveraging its energy sources, ApECOR’s power manager could save Marines from lugging unnecessary battery weight in their packs, and potentially preventing disaster if a mission duration is unexpectedly extended.

Beyond the obvious impacts a product like this would have on military and civilian markets, it’s also making an impact on the local economy.

Principal investigator and UCF professor, Issa Batarseh, Ph.D., has witnessed firsthand how the partnership with ApECOR will equip students for both the workforce and academia. He credits the MGRP with boosting UCF’s ability to recruit top talent for research initiatives like this, in which students experience hands-on work alongside industry professionals. “Top students don’t want an easy program – they want a challenging and exciting program.”

In many cases, students engaged in MGRP projects remain in the area’s local workforce once the project is complete and a product goes to market. This model is one Elmes hopes to repeat.

“We’ve had past success in similar projects that are resulting in jobs. In this case, there’s a lot of impact we’re hoping to foster based on what we’ve developed,” Elmes said. “Keeping the knowledge base and manufacturing local while pushing to develop world leading technology is a big goal for us.”

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