U-M, UVa joint startup attracts financing for batteryless sensors


PsiKick, an ultra-low-power wireless sensor company co-founded by a U-M professor, has completed Series A, or first-round, funding.

The financing, led by New Enterprise Associates, will be used to accelerate PsiKick’s growth and product development to meet the increasing demand for energy-efficient system-on-a-chip technology. MINTS, a U-M venture fund, and Osage University Partners also participated as new investors in this round.

PsiKick was launched in 2012 by David Wentzloff, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and partners Benton Calhoun, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Virginia, and company CEO Brendan Richardson. It has offices in Ann Arbor and Charlottesville, Va.

“This is a unique partnership between two universities and their inventors,” said Jack Miner, director of the Venture Center within U-M Tech Transfer. “PsiKick benefited from UVa resources, from its home base in Charlottesville, and from U-M resources, having a satellite office in U-M Tech Transfer’s Venture Accelerator. The result speaks for itself with funding from NEA, one of the nation’s premier venture firms.”

Wentzloff said the financing represents a huge step for PsiKick and a nice validation of the research conducted at U-M’s Wireless Integrated Circuits and Systems group.

“This funding allows us to expand our leadership and technical teams, begin development of our first wireless system-on-a-chip and ultimately deliver chips to our customers,” he said. “This will enable our customers to develop ‘Internet of Things’ devices that last much longer on batteries or operate entirely from harvested energy.”

PsiKick’s ultra-low-power wireless systems-on-a-chip are capable of operating on 1/100th to 1/1000th of the power budget of other low-power integrated circuit platforms. Their extreme energy efficiency enables them to be powered without a battery from harvested energy sources such as vibration, thermal gradients, solar, radio frequency or piezo actuation.

At its launch four years ago, the company demonstrated its technology by featuring a single chip that conducted continuous EKG monitoring and detection of atrial fibrillation based on an algorithm developed by a cardiologist at UVa. Wireless updates each second were sent by radio, all operating continuously and powered by body heat using a small thermoelectric generator on a body with no battery at all in the system.   

“Imagine that technology being integrated into a Band-aid-like device for physiological monitoring at home or integrated into a performance shirt for athletes,” Wentzloff said.

“As soon as you stick it on or put the shirt on, the device powers up from your body heat and starts recording and wirelessly talking to your phone. And since there’s no battery, it can be disposable, or in the case of a shirt washed and dried — neither of which is good for batteries.”

PsiKick licensed the initial technology from the universities of Michigan, Virginia and Washington.


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