By GREGORY ZELLER //
Mission impossible: a six-week window to prepare a functional but unattractive wireless charging-pad prototype for the glaring spotlight of the nation’s largest consumer-electronics showcase.
Impossible, at least, for New York City’s FLI Charge, which wanted to pretty up the charging-pad technology in time for CES 2016, the annual Consumer Electronics Show staged in Las Vegas every January.
In November – just a month after FLI Charge became a subsidiary of sometimes-controversial IP commercialization specialist Vringo and less than two months before CES 2016 – things were looking grim. A booth suddenly became available at the trade show, according to FLI Charge President and Vringo Executive VP Cliff Weinstein, and while the technology worked, it needed a serious makeover before its close-up.
A one-stop solution was in order, Weinstein noted: a single shop where design, blueprinting, 3D modeling and actual construction – all accommodating the existing functionality – could happen seamlessly, and that right quick.
“You can hire a consultant for the design and get a pretty picture,” Weinstein said. “Then you can find a person to turn it into a 3D model. Then you can hire an engineer to build it, then someone to test it. But it’s always easier to find a one-stop shop.”
FLI Charge couldn’t handle the rapid redesign in-house, where a small, scattered interstate team included only “two hard-core electrical engineers.” And the search for a product-design house that could handle the end-to-end job, on a tight schedule through the teeth of the holiday season, was going nowhere.
“Just go find a graphic designer to make it look pretty, right?” Weinstein said. “Not as easy as it sounds.”
A successful showing at CES 2016 would mean more than just sturdy product placement for Vringo, a rollercoaster enterprise best known for acquiring, developing and monetizing third-party intellectual property.
Labeled by some as a major-league patent troll, the public company has enjoyed soaring highs – serial shark Mark Cuban purchased a 7 percent share in April 2012 – and gut-wrenching lows, including a 2014 U.S. Court of Appeals reversal of a $30.5 million patent-infringement lawsuit Vringo won against Google.
The wireless charging pad for laptops, tablets and smartphones – one of the principal targets when Vringo acquired Arizona-based International Development Group and two subsidiaries, including FLI Charge, in October 2015 – represents the start of a new retail-sales focus, Weinstein noted, placing a premium on a strong CES 2016 showing.
But with the clock ticking into November, it wasn’t looking good – until FLI Charge dialed up Hauppauge-based Intelligent Product Solutions.
FLI Charge reps met with IPS staff in Hauppauge in mid-November and were “instantly comfortable,” according to Weinstein, an East Islip native. After one meeting, they’d crafted a logo; after the second, IPS was already at the drawing board, dispatching a four-person engineering team daily to FLI Charge’s Manhattan offices.
A redesign including a new look, a 3D model and actual construction of a new device built around the existing technology would be difficult enough under any circumstances, and with just six weeks until CES 2016, it was a longshot at best. For perspective, FLI Charge is already knee-deep in preparations for CES 2017.
Fortunately for the new Vringo subsidiary, IPS hit the mark. President Mitch Maiman said the only way to make the deadline was to “hit the ground running,” and noted his engineers did just that, forming a “true partnership” with FLI Charge that not only improved the charging pad’s look, but its performance.
“Our 100-person-plus team of seasoned professionals worked closely with FLI Charge to substantially enhance their bandwidth by utilizing our core competencies in graphic and industrial design, mechanical and electrical engineering and many other [disciplines],” Maiman said.
The remade charging pad prototypes were “beautiful,” Weinstein noted, and the hard work paid off with a strong CES 2016 reception. Just two months later, FLI Charge is working closely with IPS to secure a top-level manufacturer, with a large-scale rollout anticipated for late spring.
“We’re engaging topnotch PR firms and topnotch digital marketing firms and putting a team together that will make this introduction really special when it happens,” Weinstein noted. “We believe in this technology and we think it’s something everybody will want to know about.”
The big rollout might not have happened without the strong CES performance – and CES, according to the FLI Charge president, wouldn’t have happened without IPS.
“We would never have gotten there without IPS working around the clock.”