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Innovation Economy

Lighter fluid may soon charge your iPhone

Lilliputian’s charger is a bit taller and thicker than a mobile phone. Lilliputian’s charger is a bit taller and thicker than a mobile phone.
By Scott Kirsner
Globe Correspondent / September 19, 2011

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If you’re like me, most of your electronic devices operate on the edge of powerlessness. Midway through an important call, you start getting the dreaded “10% battery life remaining’’ message.

For the past decade, Lilliputian Systems has been working on what it believes is the solution: a pocket-size generator that turns butane - lighter fuel - into power for your gadgets.

The Wilmington company, which has raised a bit more than $100 million in funding, hopes to have a product on the market soon, said Mouli Ramani, its vice president of business development.

It has not announced where you will be able to buy a Lilliputian Mobile Power System - or whether other companies will market it.

But the device will cost between $150 and $200, and drop as production volume increases. Fuel cartridges will cost $2 to $5, depending on size.

Last month, I put Lilliputian on my list of 12 companies to track, since the product seems so promising for road warriors. Recently, Ramani invited me to Lilliputian to see the prototype in action - and get a little juice for my half-full iPhone.

The device is taller and thicker than a mobile phone; it resembles a cigarette pack that has grown an inch or so on the top. Inside is a chip that contains a solid oxide fuel cell, which converts the hydrogen and oxygen in butane into electricity at about 1,380 degrees Fahrenheit.

But Lilliputian’s fuel cell is insulated well enough that you can touch the hottest part of its case, and it is still cooler than a typical laptop. The device has a standard USB output port that can deliver about 3 watts of power - enough to recharge a GPS, digital camera, or mobile phone, but not enough for a laptop or tablet.

The butane cartridges are not refillable, but they will be recyclable. Many early users of the system may opt to get butane cartridges delivered on a subscription basis. That could create a nice razor-and-blades business model.

The fuel cell’s only exhaust is a tiny amount of CO2 and water vapor, Ramani said - it emits about 1/20th of the amount contained in a single human breath, over the course of one mobile phone charging cycle.

It’s an open question whether consumers will carry an accessory - and, perhaps, a spare butane cartridge - to keep small electronics charged up. But Ramani said Lilliputian will target business travelers, outdoorsmen who rely on GPS devices, and families that travel with a collection of electronics.

Lilliputian is producing small numbers of its fuel cell chips in Wilmington but has an agreement with Intel to crank out larger volumes in Hudson.

Culling resumes via webcam Job seekers may soon need to develop a new skill: projecting confidence and competence in front of a webcam. Take the Interview, currently conducting a test with nearly 200 companies, wants to persuade employers to make more use of video screening as a way to find the gems in the pile of promising resumes.

The Cambridge company has just raised $775,000 to begin marketing the service more widely.

Founder Danielle Weinblatt, who started working on the concept during her first year at Harvard Business School, decided to take a leave to focus full time on Take the Interview

The plan is that companies post questions for certain candidates to answer via video, on their own time. The site also offers a “question bank’’ related to job categories like sales or accounting. Hiring managers can view the responses.

“You might know that someone is a ‘no’ within the first few minutes of an in-person interview, but you end up spending 30 or 60 minutes talking to them because that’s what is scheduled,’’ Weinblatt said. “We think that asynchronous video interviewing is a great way for people to save time.’’

Take the Interview’s initial focus is on small- and mid-size businesses. Pricing starts at $45, which covers filling one job, but there are monthly plans, too.

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit www.boston.com/innovation.


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