We recently ran across Los Angeles-based Equipois (www.equipoisinc.com), which has created a device--almost out of science fiction--which takes heavy loads and essentially makes them weightless. Eric Golden, the firm's President and CEO, told us more about the company and its technology, and its fascinating beginnings from Hollywood's Steadicam.
Tell us about your technology?
Eric Golden: The technology---called Zero-G--essentially takes objects and lets you maneuver them as if they were weightless, but with complete freedom of motion--even if those objects weigh up to 50 pounds. It was invented by a fellow named Garrett Brown, who was the inventor of the Steadicam, which allows camera operators to control heavy cameras on movie sets, a staple of the film business. Brown was approached by a manufacturer, who asked if his technology could hold tools for an assembly line. At the time, I had a business finding technology that grew up in the entertainment business, and developing that technology for a larger market. Garrett and I hooked up and shortly after, we were contacted by an automotive manufacturer. It was truly one of the great coincidences of my career. I did the market research, decided it was a tremendous opportunity, and we ended up spinning it out from our other businesses and making it the focus of our venture.
What kinds of uses does your technology have?
Eric Golden: The first use is for holding tools for manufacturers. Most manufacturers these days have workers that have to use tools, that can weigh from six pounds to up to 30 or 40 pounds. What Zero-G does for them, is if those tools are weightless, it has two main benefits. One, is it significantly reduces injuries, which is actually a $200 billion a year problem for U.S. manufacturers, but also it lets them operate a lot more efficiently, so you don't have the bad effects of fatigue.
Is the technology available today, and are people using it?
Eric Golden: Yes, we launched in March of 2008, and we had at that time just completed about 9 months of pilots. At this point, we're working with most of the major manufacturers in our target industries. For example, we're working with the top five car companies in the world, the top aerospace company in the world, as well as heavy equipment manufacturers.
Do people ever tell you this seems like something out of science fiction?
Eric Golden: They do. When you actually try the technology, it really has a "wow" effect. You can take a 20 pound object, and work it with your fingertips. Some of the things we have in development really are truly out of sci-fi. As I mentioned, our first market is helping out manufacturers, but our second major market, where we have a version in development, is to just support the weight of the human arm. What that means, is that surgeons, dentists, lab workers, and others can work for very long periods without being fatigued by the weight of their own arm. Believe it or not, injuries are a massive problem for surgeons, dentists, and other folks having to support their own arm hour after hour each day.
Does your technology require power to work, and how do you handle the power needs?
Eric Golden: It's entirely mechanical. There is no power consumption, which given the emphasis on green technology nowadays, a big advantage. The system is a spring and cam driven systems. The eureka patents that Garrett has are on controlling how a spring behaves through a range of motion, and selectively defeating that spring--which when you push down, usually pull up--through a certain period, so that there is a constant force throughout.
We understand the firm is venture funded?
Eric Golden: We did an angel round, our Series A worth $1.5, in 2007, then we did a Series B round of about $3.5M, led by a venture firm, Terrapin Partners. When the economy turned south, we decided to raise a third round, to give us some cushion to survive, so we raised an additional $1M in the last three months or so.
What's next for you in the next few months?
Eric Golden: We've just now reached the inflection point with the manufacturing market, who are some of our top customers, and names that people would recognize. We have taken steps to roll out our technology broadly, to North America, and the world. Due to the economy, it's taken a bit longer than normal, but we're now at that point. We're also now expanding into our second part, which is supporting the human arm in these other applications.
It seems like this also might have some other medical or health care applications?
There is. We will also be exploring using it to help support the arms of disabled individuals, or people who are being rehabilitated for injuries--people who have joint control, without having enough muscle power to move their own arms freely, supported throughout the full range of motion.