Past Projects

This post will summarize a number of projects Robert has done over the years, as well as companies he has worked at and in what capacity. 

All of these products and projects happened after he got his Ph.D. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he made dozens of microcontroller and analog controlled devices, for classes, courses, and fun. His Ph.D. was based around a new method for treating scoliosis. The project required developing equipment that could measure forces imparted by orthopedic tools during surgery.


Edumech

In the original incarnation of Shandor, two other guys and I had a goal of developing the worlds first GPS based training watch, remember this was in the mid-90’s.

In order to pay the bills we designed, built, and sold educational systems to help teach mechatronics concepts. We sold them all over the world. This link is still good for a set of systems we sold to Slovenia. It’s possible they are still using them. Who knows? They do have some pretty cool projects that are more recent.


GPS Trainer

The main goal of Shandor’s original embodiment was to bring a GPS based featureset to personal training. Something you see every day now. 

We filed a patent.

But if you look closely, a similar patent from a cardiologist named William Fry was published, one week after we filed. In those days, the patents that were in queue between filing and publication, were invisible. We had no idea this idea was being patented. 

We spent years trying to obtain rights to that patent. In the meantime, other patents were popping out of the the queue. The patent landscape had become a disaster for a tiny company such as ours.

We had working prototypes. We had the final industrial design. We had a marketing and technology development plan. We even predicted price points still in use today. We did all teh CAD design, the firmware development, and product develoment planning. none of that was done by any of the various patent holders. But in the end, we had to let it drop.

Our design was essentially identical to the Timex Forerunner

So close, it’s strange


Honey Filler

Another patent we got was on a method for the lone honey producer, the guy who has his apiary on his lawn and honey processing equipment in his garage, to fill the honey bottles more easily.

A man came to us with this idea, we explored two methods of accomplishing the goal, of a more hands free method to fill honey jars. We designed and built both. In the end we went forward with one design and patented that. This is when I learned that just because someone is willing to take on the task of sales, doesn’t mean they have the capacity, experience, or desire to do so. 


Sleep Detector

Another man with dreams of innovation leading to riches came to us to develop a sleep detection device. In this project we used standard body electrodes like those used in EEG machines. I developped a circuit to amplify brain wave activity and used Chebechev filters to separate alpha, delta and theta waves in an effort to detect when eyes closed and the onset of sleep arrived. The device was supposed ot fit in a baseball hat and was intended for truckers. Only the miniature EEG system was prototyped for this project.


Micro Fuel Cell

Shandor Motion Systems closed after the GPS Trainer patent landscape became untenable. I then got a job at a MTI MicroFuel Cells, to help them develop the worlds first fuel cell energy source for portable devices. Their core technology was a passive, i.e. no pumps or blowers needed, methanol based fuel cell. 

This technology looked promising. I was there initially to design the controllers for the device and for test stands, but eventually ended up leading the entire fuel cell development team. My team focus on the implementation of an injection molded, six segment fuel cell. We did pretty well. The process worked out, the performance was as good as the lab devices. 

The image on the right was one of the later injection molded devices we built while I was there. Obviously, this was in pre-iphone days.

The first incarnations of the controls were based on the newly released PSOC devices from Cypress. These were chosen for their incredible flexibility, particularly with analog interfaces. However as the controls came into line and design iterations improved the product, the controls were switched to the Atmel AVR devices and then to the TI MSP430 series of extremely low power microcontrollers.

However after almost four years, it became apparent to me that the technolgoy was not going to make the trip. Fundamentally, the energy density acheived from the fuel, and the small packaging required to be integrated into any device made it impossible to create a market viable system. I was right. 

Some day, there may be a fuel cell unit for phones, but there will have to be some sort of technology advancement before we see fuel cells for mobile phones. As much as we scream about Lithium Ion batteries, they are pretty damn good.


Sulfur Analyzer

After fuel cells, I went to work at XOS. Their core technology is a method to analyze sulfur content in petroleum fuels using a technique called XRF (X-Ray fluorescence). Their devices are used to test fuels to meet new ultra-low sulfur diesel requirements.

They already had a version of their analyzer for desktops for small, single batch testing and a continuous system. But they wanted a turn-key system that was robust and could be plopped down in demanding sites. I lead the project to develop the first of these units. 

The unit has gone through many iterations since I was there, and now looks liek the image on the right.

Additrionally, XOS now makes a handheld unit. Before they embarked on that product development journey, they hired me to perform a competitive analysis of two other handheld XRF devices. Keep in mind, these are $30,000 dollar devices. I detailed the performance of each unit with respect to a variety of parameters, and also did a teardown analysis of one of them to arrive at costs and examine design decisions.



Hydrogen Pump

I started at a new company called H2Pump in January 2008. They had a technology that could pump hydrogen to very high pressures with no moving parts. 

fully-insulated-stack-in_med_hr

The technology works as follows. Some materials have a characteristic that they can conduct protons. So, if catalyst is applied to either side of the membrane, hydrogen molecules are split, the electron go around the membrane via the power supply and protons through it. the molecules are reformed on the other side of the membrane. All of this happens when voltage is applied across the membrane. The key is to apply so little voltage that this only happens to hydrogen molecules, not water, not O2, not CO2. With this device, you can separate hydrogen from mixed gas streams. Like are experienced in heat treating furnaces. The core technology, a stack of many membranes between carbon plates, is shown to the right.

The implementation of this technoology into an industrial product required extensive PLC controls, gas and water fluidic systems, heat exchangers, inverter driven blowers, fans and pumps, as well as industrial cabinet design, inlet and outlet gas quality sensing, multiple thermal control loops and application of a 45 kilowatt power supply. The goal was to get incredibly pure H2 with dew points of -80C.

I lead the design and development of a number of iterations of this technology to the point where we had 5 installed systems in factories around the northest. I continue to work to adapt this technology in a different market with a company other than H2Pump.

© Robert Hirsch 2016