A long standing partnership between the University of Waikato’s Associate Professor Nihal Kularatna and Australian manufacturer of power management products, Thor Technologies, has resulted in multiple collaborative R&D projects at various stages of commercialisation.

The relationship began in 2011/2012, when Thor Technologies expressed interest in a novel supercapacitor-based surge absorption circuit developed by Dr Kularatna. Following a three-year research and development partnership and a subsequent license deal, Thor Technologies entered the market with a new high performance surge protector, the S-TViQ.

Critical to the successful commercialisation of the S-TViQ was a very close working relationship between Dr Kularatna, Thor Technologies and WaikatoLink, the University’s commercial arm. This enabled joint decision making across all stages of development, from early proof-of-concept at the University to commercial product development and manufacturing by Thor Technologies. It also allowed for input from all parties on aspects such as patent protection, product branding and opportunities to extend the base technology.

WaikatoLink Chairman Tenby Powell says that the S-TViQ is an excellent example of the value that can be created from strong partnerships between the University, WaikatoLink and industry.

Dr Kularatna and George Forster-Jones, Managing Director of Thor Technologies, routinely discuss a number of early stage technology concepts but the pair have recently extended their partnership to a second immediate commercial opportunity. Dr Kularatna has developed a AC voltage regulation technique that he will implement into Thor’s Smart Power Station product, which is a power conditioner that is designed to even out damaging fluctuations in voltage. The result is expected to be a next generation Power Station that has faster response times, reduced physical size and reduced component cost.

Dr Kularatna and his team are currently working towards proof-of-concept, for which they received funding of $285,000 from the University of Waikato and KiwiNet, an organisation that administers the New Zealand Government’s PreSeed Accelerator Fund.  This funding is targeted to public research organisations for early stage commercialisation of new technology ideas.

The two-year proof-of-concept development project will aim to deliver a working prototype that meets Thor’s core commercial and technical performance requirements, after which commercial developments will be driven by Thor.

George Forster-Jones says that Thor Technologies have enjoyed working with Dr Kularatna and his team.  “I’m excited about the potential to implement another cutting-edge technique from the University of Waikato into our products and I believe that the outcomes will be mutually beneficial for all involved.”

Dr Kularatna is equally enthusiastic about the prospect of one of his inventions making a valuable contribution to another new commercial product. Dr Kularatna was named 2013 New Zealand Innovator of the Year at the New Zealand Engineering Excellence Awards, which paid recognition to his commercial successes and his general approach to R&D. His research philosophy is to develop novel ideas and technologies based on market needs and he is passionate about continuing to engage with industry to understand these needs.

He is a researcher with extensive industry experience and he initiates all his projects with a simple conceptual circuit topology, which becomes the basis for proving the concept in a working prototype. Dr Kularatna’s research-led design approach is complimented by a close working relationship with WaikatoLink, who support ongoing engagement with commercial partners and IP protection. Dr Kularatna’s expertise in supercapacitor technologies has led him to develop a portfolio of supercapacitor-assisted techniques, including a low dropout regulator, a temperature modification apparatus, a high density inverter, as well as the surge absorber mentioned above. His ethos for commercial R&D is ‘education to innovation and commercialisation’.