L.A. technology entrepreneur Felipe Pimiento does something every day that you shouldn’t try at home: He dunks his iPhone in water.
He gets away with this because of technology – Belgian nanotechnology, that is.
His startup, DryWired, provides invisible coating designed to protect electronics from water damage. The company coats the outside and inside of smartphones with a protective plasma so thin it’s difficult to comprehend: less than a thousandth of the thickness of a human hair. Because of this coating, his phone can survive under three feet of water for about 30 minutes, said Pimiento, DryWired’s chief operating officer.
The company licenses the technology from Europlasma NV, a Belgian machine manufacturer that has been developing protective plasma and using it to coat machinery for 15 years. Pimiento learned of the company at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, last year. He immediately saw wider potential, given the many clumsy smartphone owners.
“I saw this for the first time and I went crazy,” he said.
DryWired hopes to sell the technology to companies that manufacture or distribute consumer electronics or sell them retail. If a phone maker such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., for instance, agreed to partner with DryWired, the startup would set up a coating center at the manufacturing site, where engineers would use the Europlasma machines to coat the whole phone, inside and out. If a distributor agreed to partner, it would set up a coating site at the distribution center.
As cellphones become more expensive and people spend more to replace them, DryWired is betting that manufacturers and retailers will want to give their products a competitive advantage by making them water repellent with nanotechnology – the term for engineering at the molecular level. Apple iPhones can cost $650 for people purchasing them outside carrier contracts.
“Cellphones were never cheap,” Pimiento said. “All of a sudden, you’re paying hundreds of dollars for an iPhone. I’m afraid my son is going to throw mine into the toilet. You have to protect all those devices that are becoming a crucial part of your life.”
Since DryWired doesn’t sell retail, he wouldn’t speculate how much the process might cost an individual. A competitor with a similar service has a base charge of $59 to coat an iPhone.
Americans often have to replace or repair broken cellphones, according to Ty Shay, chief marketing officer of SquareTrade, a San Francisco company that sells protection plans for consumer devices including smartphones. Immersing a phone in liquid was the second most cited reason for damage, according to a survey by SquareTrade.