KRISHNA SHENAI: BUILDING A BETTER BATTERY
The property from Procter & Gamble's proprietary Smart Power Management Technology consists largely of patents and plans for efficiently doubling the life of ordinary batteries. After years of promising but unfulfilled work, P&G researcher Ying Xu suggested the project be turned over to her former University of Illinois at Chicago mentor, electrical and computer engineering professor Krishna Shenai.
P&G's intellectual property lays much of the groundwork for solving the problem. Shenai's research aims at finding the answer. At its heart is a sophisticated bit of circuitry called a "charge pump" - a power management microchip that enables batteries to deliver required power in a sustained manner, much more efficiently than at present.
"P&G computer models showed it can work," said Shenai. "Now, we have to take up the process and deliver the goods. Charge pumps can now double battery life - but sometimes at twice the cost of a typical battery. We have to double the life at half the cost."
Shenai specializes in "power electronics," a technology that enables electrical devices to get required power when needed with almost total reliability. Power electronics devices switch between alternating and direct electrical current, converting power levels according to strict requirements.
While the uses of power electronics can range from tiny transistors to giant electro-locomotives, the charge pump power chip's greatest commercial potential is in improving battery use in consumer electronics products such as laptop computers, personal digital assistants, cellular telephones and other devices that bundle multiple functions in a single device subjected to varying power needs.
Shenai said batteries managed by charge pump chips will not only help lighten the load of consumer electronics but also are likely to find military application. He said modern soldiers who rely on numerous electronic tools often shoulder up to 30 pounds of weight in battery packs. Halving that weight, he said, would enhance a soldier's mobility.
P&G's Corporate Research Division studied possible ways to apply this technology in items ranging from battery-powered "smart" clothing fibers to grooming products adjustable to the personal needs of consumers. After exiting this research following a change in corporate strategy, P&G selected Shenai and UIC as the recipient most likely to develop and commercialize this technology. Shenai worked with P&G as a private consultant in helping develop the technology during its later stages.
The P&G donation to UIC includes not only the intellectual property but also research funding and three year's coverage of patent maintenance fees. Another component includes the donation of semiconductor testing equipment, which will go to UIC for research use. All patents are, or will be, exclusively licensed to a startup company headed by Shenai called Empower Systems, Inc. Shenai will continue as a full-time UIC faculty member while operating Empower Systems, which will further serve as a teaching facility for graduate and undergraduate students.
Shenai joined UIC in 1995. Before coming to UIC, he taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a senior staff engineer at Intel Corporation. He received a B.Tech. in electronics from the Indian Institute of Technology, an M.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University.
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