“I soon realized what actually a lot of people wanted to do was to be able to generate their own power on a micro level.”
—Jerry Ranger, Texenergy founder
Who better than a person named Jerry Ranger to find an off-grid power solution for hikers and campers?
An avid outdoorsman, entrepreneur and former Royal Marine, Ranger has addressed a need for replenishable power outside of urban areas. Although recharging is often easy in our world of smartphones and battery-powered devices, with power outlets and charging stations readily available, it is a challenge in remote outdoor areas.
When Ranger was the CEO of Powertraveller—a company that designs and manufactures battery power banks and solar recharging systems—he kept hearing customer feedback that the power banks were too heavy and cumbersome for serious outdoor activity. “I soon realized what actually a lot of people wanted to do was to be able to generate their own power on a micro level,” he recalls.
This can be done with solar panels, but they have a lot of drawbacks. Most notably, they are only useful in times of low ambient sunlight. “So we started having a look at the wind turbine,” he says—an approach that kicked off a three-year development program for what became the Infinite Air.
The Infinite Air is a high-performance portable wind turbine generator. It weighs less than 1.5 lbs. and breaks down and folds into a tight package that easily fits into the backpack of any hiker or camper. The three-blade turbine comes with a stand that allows it to be placed on uneven terrain, and includes a charging cable with a Lightning connector for Apple products and a micro USB for Android and other devices.
The Infinite Air requires just 15 mph wind speed to generate the five volts of electricity for charging; it can supply up to two watts of power even at low air speed. Combined with the sold-separately Infinite Air Clamp, the turbine can be securely fastened to poles and branches or be used on boats.
Wind power sounds like an obvious source for renewable off-grid power, but it has its challenges. With more than 25 years’ experience in the field of off-grid power, Ranger—the oft-awarded founder of U.K.-based off-grid power company Texenergy—is an expert at solutions.
The first turbine prototype that he created was an anemometer type, which uses blades that look like tablespoons and is commonly used for measuring wind speed on weather stations. He combined this with a battery charger and sent it to Bolivia for testing with renowned climber Kenton Cool, who has climbed Everest 12 times.
“He came back and he said, ‘Look, you put a battery in here and it’s great, but it’s still too heavy,’” Ranger says. “So we then went back to the drawing board. We decided we needed to go to blades.”
Developing such a system was a better solution but provided a much larger technical hurdle. In order to further develop a blade-based turbine, he employed the help of an aeronautical engineer on the design. The result is a clever blade design that uses two-thirds of the blade length to generate the power, while the other third stalls the flow over the blades at high speed to create extra drag and keep the system from over-speeding in high winds. The system also required a low drag and lightweight gear train to efficiently transmit the power from the blades.
Ranger was working on other products, including a high-performance, hand crank charger. He was able to leverage the learnings from that product and apply them to the Infinite Air, and the product started to come to life—but only after approximately 40 major prototype iterations to perfect it.
Protecting and perfecting
Patents are an important part of the product strategy for Ranger and the Infinite Air team. He has filed a number of international patents to cover the technology, some issued and some still in process. He also believes that building brand confidence is crucial in the marketplace.
“Once people start using it and they can see it…the quality of the build and the design and everything else to me is paramount,” Ranger says. “The barrier to entry is reasonably high. It’s not a cheap thing to develop.”
He engaged a manufacturing partner early in the design process to help further the product. Ranger was fortunate to have spent a number of years in manufacturing towns in Asia in his previous career, so he was comfortable navigating the nuances of overseas manufacturing.
He engaged an ODM (original design manufacturer) within the first year of development, which helped the velocity of the project tremendously. The Infinite Air is a fine balance between weight, performance and price (about $137 in U.S. dollars; the clamp is about $50). His manufacturing team was able to add helpful expertise to develop as well as manufacture the product.
The Infinite Air officially launched at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and is rolling out at a number of other international trade shows this year. However, it was used effectively by extreme outdoor athletes in the toughest conditions for months before the launch.
The product, which has garnered rave reviews, is the flagship product of a line of off-grid power accessories offered by Texenergy. The team is currently designing an off-grid water turbine, as well as other top-secret new products to keep campers and hikers powered up.
This article first appeared in the May print edition of Inventors Digest.
Need professional help with your product development project?
With over fifteen years of successful product development projects under out belts, Enventys Partners is one of the largest and most experienced product launch companies in the industry.