Innovator lights path to success

By Helen Twose

Charles Maud says 3i Innovation's sealed magnetic lighting can be covered in anything except metal. Photo / Natalie Slade
Charles Maud says 3i Innovation's sealed magnetic lighting can be covered in anything except metal. Photo / Natalie Slade

Mixing water and electricity is not generally recommended but it's providing the spark for a North Shore lighting business.

3i Innovation is creatively using inductive power technology - wireless power systems similar to those used by electric toothbrushes - developed by the University of Auckland to run LED road lighting.

The company's core product is a catseye reflector and in-road lighting alternative brightening everything from pedestrian crossings, lane openings and closures through to road tunnels.

Its patented technology creates a magnetic field from a sealed electricity supply that can be covered by any material except metal, including concrete, tarseal and plastic, to light a separate LED unit.

3i Innovation chief executive Charles Maud said the robust nature of the company's technology meant it wasn't susceptible to moisture intrusion - a key point of failure for lighting in extreme conditions.

LED is shaping up to be the lighting technology of the future.

Maud said data from Phillips showed the US$5 billion ($6.3 billion) LED market growing to US$100 billion this year and accounting for 75 per cent of the lighting market.

The backbone of 3i Innovation is in-road lighting systems, but Maud wants to grow the business in a wider variety of markets.

"We don't want to be a niche player. This is a unique opportunity for us to create a new electrical standard worldwide," he said. Maud said the system had applications for everything from spark-free lighting technology for oil rigs and mines to under-water lighting for swimming pools.

One marketing gimmick saw 3i Innovation create the "shineken", a Heineken bottle that lit up, for a trade show but the same treatment could be applied to display lighting in bar fridges.

The marine industry is an obvious target, as it's possible to provide lighting without breaking through a boat's membranes to connect wiring.

As well as the wireless power smarts, 3i Innovation has also developed digital control technology for the lighting - again without wires - that can do everything from switching the lights on and off, sequencing and flashing the lights to changing the colours.

Environmental information, such as whether it's hot or cold, can alert road users to ice on the roads, a fire or water intrusion in a boat.

An important application for 3i Innovation is the newly developed "poison pill" that ensures only products manufactured by licensed vendors can be used with the technology.

Maud said the lighting technology had many uses, but he wasn't naive enough to think it could all be done from New Zealand.

He's in the early stages of talking to electronics giant Phillips and has advanced talks with several other players.

3i Innovation is hoping to tap into million-dollar funding and business support through the University of Auckland Business School's Entrepreneurs' Challenge to boost its chances of major success. It's one of 10 finalists in the business competition, with the winner or winners to be announced on November 18.

- NZ Herald

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