Tuesday, January 25, 2022
  Intelligent, self-monitoring AC power plug  
The smug catalyst

Sometime in 1999, I was working, as usual, on Monday morning at Lutz Rental and a female came in and returned a portable 3/8" electric drill. When she placed it on the counter, she said, "I didn't use it." I remembered that I had rented it to her, the previous Saturday afternoon (the business was closed on Sunday).

I looked at the drill, and observed that the power cord was not wrapped in the manner which was SOP at Lutz Rental, and judging by the look on her face and the tone of her voice, I knew she was lying. Because I'm a nice guy, and want to keep happy customers, it was my policy to usually not charge rental fees for items that were returned in a timely manner and unused. Because I had worked there for so many years, and had made a practice of this policy, it was well known that I'd offer this accommodation.

Although she was not a "regular customer," I had seen her in the shop before, and I could tell that she knew this about me.

I didn't want to call her a liar and get into an argument about it, so I let it slide, and told her, "okay, no charge."

She put on a smug little smile and walked out.

The idea is hatched

I'd been through this type of situation before, but this time I had an idea – a power plug that could record usage data on the tool (how many times the tool was cycled on/off and the total time the tool was used for). With that information, there would be no doubt about whether a tool was used or not.

In addition, there was another problem with renting electric tools – that being when they are used with an extension cord which was either too small of a gauge and/or too long for the power rating of the particular tool. In this case the tool could/would suffer serious damage which may not be apparent without disassembling the tool and inspecting the armature – a procedure which was not part of a normal check in, inspection and return to rental routine. What would happen in these cases, is that the tool would fail, usually on the next rental, but by then it was to late to assess damages to the previous renter that misused the tool.

So, with that idea, I began to search if there was such a device, and once I determined there was not, I began searching to see if there was a patent for such a device, which I also determined that there was not.

Sold in Taiwan

It just so happened that there was another guy (Guy Hansen) that worked at Lutz Rental as the service manager. Guy is the best mechanic that I'd ever met, and furthermore, we had worked together a few years prior on another device (Cyclert – Guy's idea) which we eventually patented. In addition, we brought in the electrical engineer who had assisted with the prior patent, also.

It took a couple of years, but we finally received the patent.

We tried to manufacture the device, but as we had learned with Cyclert, it is very difficult and expensive to build and market a new invention.

In 2009, we sold the rights to the patent to an investor group in Taiwan (for $52,000).

Intelligent, self-monitoring AC power plug

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