The recent Disney Accelerator tech day featured a number of intriguing startups, including Hop Skip Drive, but Uncharted Power Founder and CEO Jessica O. Matthews wowed everyone by painting a future around kinetic energy solutions straight out of Black Panther.
"Everything that moves is a source of kinetic energy which can be stored," Matthews said, explaining how growing up as a dual citizen of Nigeria and the US gave her an insight into the energy (or lack thereof) industry.
"There are 21 million people living in Lagos," Matthews told PCMag when we spoke to her after her presentation. "But when I visited my grandparents there, the electricity would go down several times a day. I knew there needed to be a better solution. This is painted as a socio-economic problem—and it is—but it's also an infrastructure and transmission issue. At Uncharted Power we address the entire ecosystem."
At Harvard, Matthews created SOCCKET, an energy-harvesting product inside a soccer ball, which President Obama kicked around during a trip to Tanzania. It started as a class project, but Matthews ran with it and SOCCKET became the first of many sports-based, kinetic-harvesting products.
These products not only gather and store energy, they also transmit it. For example, an hour of play could provide three hours of energy, enough to power a lamp, so kids could do their homework and stay in school.
Matthews officially launched Uncharted Power (formerly known as Uncharted Play) in 2011, raising $7 million in a Series A funding round. She's not only founder and CEO but CTO, too, as well as a multiple patent holder for the software stack, hardware elements, mesh design, and AI-based protocols inside the MORE (Motion-based, Off-grid, Renewable Energy) technology.
Today the company is expanding into mass-scale city-based infrastructure, embedding its MORE technology under sidewalks, busy highways (speed bumps), and within municipal buildings.
Under the hood, the company's tech supports "decentralized harvesting of micro packets of energy and storage," Matthews explained. "Then, through our AI-powered rules-based protocols we can make the environment truly efficient, and, essentially, sentient. For example, I can set it up to take the energy I've harvested by kinetic movement throughout each room and charge my cell phone when I walk through the door."
Matthews pointed out that the developing world has plenty of challenges, but few legacy issues. "A lot of the developed world has electricity infrastructure going back 100 years; that isn't going to be sustainable in the future," she said. "But the developing world has very little, or none. What we're doing is creating a solution similar to the mobile cell phone network—smart enough to deploy everywhere, allowing emerging economies to leapfrog other nations, creating entirely new products and services."
The Disney Effect
Back on the studio lot, as we drew our interview to a close, Disney executives hovered around the Uncharted Power physical street grid demo table to talk to Matthews and her team.
The entertainment giant is looking to stay ahead of the zeitgeist and this tech accelerator, now in its fifth year, is one way to do it. Sometimes its interest is pure investment. But often there's a direct correlation. For example, at the presentations, Joanna McFarland, CEO of Hop Skip Drive, pointed out that unless kids can get to after-school sports safely, they're not going to grow up to be sports fan (and subscribe to Disney's ESPN).
Occasionally it's about pouncing on a good thing—like Makies, a 3D doll manufacturer that participated in Disney's second accelerator and was quietly acquired not long after. Sadly, we haven't (yet) seen Disney-fied versions of the Makies make-your-own dolls, like the one PCMag ordered in 2014. One assumes the festive Disney elves are closely examining the acquired company assets, 3D scanners, and software stack to merge into something greater soon.
Disney + Uncharted Power
Matthews is not at liberty to say yet—and Disney reps couldn't confirm—but it doesn't take a genius to work out that a sustainable energy solution, grabbing power from perpetual kinetic experiences at Disney-branded entertainment theme parks (Disney World alone covers 43 miles), would be an excellent collaboration.
Also, Disney is planning a Black Panther addition to its theme park rollout, The Hollywood Reporter says. It would be cool to see a Wakanda-style technology come to life there.
"Actually, within a week of the movie coming out, we'd built a prototype Black Panther suit," Matthews told PCMag. "We shrunk down our MORE platform so the wearer harvests electricity when they move."
Talk about a potential cool wearable, although probably only in the most open-minded of office environments.
Matthews will demo her company's tech at the Business Insider IGNITION conference on Dec. 4 at 9 a.m.