Published on December 30, 2013
William Topping shows that driving away while your vehicle is still plugged in can cause damage to your vehicle. This vehicle’s prongs on the block heater cord have been bent. The MagnoPlug will make it so people don’t cause damage to their vehicles or the extension cord if they drive away when still plugged in.
Published on December 30, 2013
Through their Kickstarter campaign, William Topping and Arash Janfada hope to raise enough money to get the MagnoPlug through the safety process and put into production by next fall.
It is an invention many Prairie people will want to have.
The MagnoPlug, an invention created by Arash Janfada (AJ) of Saskatoon and William Topping of Prince Albert, will hopefully be an item on everyone’s Christmas lists next year.
“Originally it was actually AJ, my partner’s idea,” Topping said. “It was about three years ago he first had the spark.”
After a family member drove away with a vehicle still plugged in, which damaged the vehicle, Janfada wanted to buy an attachment to stop people from driving away with their vehicle still attached to a power outlet.
“He checked place for quick release plug-ins and he couldn’t find any -- he got a little fed up,” Topping said. “He said, ‘You know what, I’m just going to make it.’”
After a year of trying to create a quick release plug, Janfada released he was in “a little over his head,” Topping laughed.
As a civil engineer, Janfada didn’t know how to work the electrical side of the invention so he headed to the University of Saskatchewan to find a electrical engineering student to help him.
“He didn’t really tell us what it was about,” Topping said. “We scheduled a meeting to talk about it and he showed me his design and my initial reaction was, ‘Well that is kind of stupid, that is not going to work. You should do it something like this.’
“Right then and there he cut me in a little bit,” he added. “I’ve been working with him for two years and five or six prototypes later and now we are here.”
The MagnoPlug is basically an extension cable with a safety break in it, Topping explained.
“You can use it like any old extension cable and it works just fine,” Topping said. “Where it becomes a little special, about a foot from the female side, the side you plug your block heater into, there is an in-line block, and a pad connector we put in.”
It is a three-pad connector and the pads connect through a magnet system.
“When you put it together it makes a little click and when you plug it apart, disconnect the two faces and give it a yank, the pads become dead,” Topping said. “It becomes safe to touch and all this happens as soon as the two faces move away from each other.”
Although it may sound similar to the MagSafe created by Apple, Topping said it is actually quite a bit different.
The MagSafe is a five-pin connector that uses a smart brick to talk back and forth between the wall and the computer.
“Ours is different -- Ours works through the magnets,” Topping said. “Once it comes together there is power and once it disconnects, there isn’t.”
The other main difference is the MagnoPlug is for large amounts of power.
“You can run this thing and it will actually flip your breaker before anything will explode the MagnoPlug -- you can run it full bore,” Topping said. “We actually tested it and the cable got hotter than the actual circuitry inside.”
The two men looked over the Apple patents before going forward with theirs, to make sure there would be no problems.
“There is a whole bunch of differences and you only need one, especially when it comes to patents and we have three or four,” Topping said.
Some of the other differences are the MagSafe pins are springed, where the MagnoPlug is a fixed connector and is waterproof.
“As soon as it disconnects from the face, all the electricity is dead and that little casing is sealed,” Topping said. “No water can get to it so if it falls in a bucket of water, take it out, give it a shake and plug it back in.”
They tried about 17 different magnet and metal combinations before coming up with the right set.
“We dialed it in to about three and a half pounds of pull force, which with trial and error is way less than what it takes to rip a cord out of the wall but it is still strong enough to hold an electrical contact,” Topping said. “Some of the tests we did were left an extension cord plugged in in the winter and then tried to unplug it.
“If you have an extension cord plugged in nice and tight and then you try to unplug it, we measured it with 25 to 30 pounds of force,” Topping added. “You know you have to get right in there and take your gloves off. This one, you know is just three or four pounds, which is what it takes to lift it up.”
It is also very suitable for the winter months. Although all the parts are guaranteed to -40C, Topping said he held his own test.
“Just on a bet with AJ, I dropped the thing in dry ice, which is solid CO2 and that dropped the temperature to -78C and then I plugged it in the wall,” Topping said. “I stood back a little bit (with safety equipment on). It whined a little bit, but it still worked. Everything engaged properly, the lights came on nice and easy and quite quick, it was a little sluggish, but it still worked at -78 degrees.”
Making it suitable for extreme weather was a priority for the two.
“We are a couple of Saskatchewan boys, we were born and raised here and we designed this thing to work here,” Topping laughed.
The MagnoPlug may have been designed for block heaters, but Topping said it could have many other applications.
“We had a couple of neat suggestions and we are just listening to people right now, coming up with ideas,” Topping said. “One of the neatest ones I’ve heard was a gentleman out of Winnipeg who was an ambulance driver. When they pull into a shop, they pull in and they have to plug in to recharge all of their emergency power systems.”
The gentleman told them at least once a week someone drives away with the emergency power cable still plugged in and the MagnoPlug could be a benefit to both firefighters and paramedics.
The other suggestion was for industrial uses, when people are using an extension cord and it could be a tripping hazard, Topping said.
“Whenever you have an extension cable that could be a tripping hazard, having this magnetic break as a safety system might be handy, especially if you are using a big tool, something like an angle grinder or saw -- something that could be dangerous if it is ripped out of your hands,” Topping said.
In addition to other uses for the MagnoPlug, Topping is also looking at other features for the invention.
“I started experimenting a little bit adding Bluetooth into it, just for fun,” Topping said. “I think Big Bang Theory said it the best that ‘everything is better with Bluetooth.’
“You can put this in and have it as a block heater timer as well as a magnetic break,” Topping added. “Somebody can set when to turn on and when to turn off through just an app in their phone.”
The invention has been funded out of pocket by the two men so far. Topping was a student while working on it and Janfada is still working on his PhD.
“We have used whatever resources we have to bring it up to where it is,” Topping said. “Now we are beginning to hit some big costs -- stuff like consumer safety.
“They don’t really look at us until we cut them a cheque and part of the problem is this kind of thing has never really been done before,” Topping added. “There are no safety standards to measure it against. Before they can even safety it, they have to do an assessment, make some standards and then see if we meet those standards.”
The second big cost will be to create a tooling factory to go into mass production.
“Anything else (we will raise) will be going into the Bluetooth and stuff like that,” Topping said. “If we actually get up and get going, we would love to make a version that fits into your wall.”
He said the MagnoPlug being used instead of traditional wall plugins would be a lot safer.
“Why not take out the peg connector and put our three padded connector there and all of sudden this becomes a lot safer, especially in places like nurseries or kids’ rooms, where they can’t take mom or dad’s keys and try to start the house,” Topping said. “Now they would have to get a rare earth magnet. A fridge magnet is not even strong enough for this.
“There are a lot more steps we have to go through to get there but we needed to start somewhere,” Topping added. “AJ deals more with safe applications. He was saying in infectious disease zones they have a problem with diseases hiding in plugs ... If it was a flat and completely sealed connector, those problems go away.”
Their goal on Kickstarter is $100,000. Right now, it is sitting at $19,644.
“You can actually go right now and say I support you guys and I’d love to buy a MagnoPlug. Here is $50,” Topping said. “Whenever we finish all these steps … we will send you one back. The idea here is you know it is going to be a little delayed maybe, but we are going to make it work. What you are doing is helping us get there and really push forward with it.”
With Kickstarter, they do not have to sell off shares of their company, but get the support directly from the consumers.
“The biggest challenge these days for us is to let people know if they do support this, if they do think this is great feel free to preorder one … if we don’t hit our goal, no one gets charged,” Topping said.
With everyone’s support, the MagnoPlug could be in production by next fall, Topping said. To support them, visit their Kickstarter site at www.kickstarter.com/projects/magnoplug/magnoplug.