Integrated Consultants Inc. (ICI), a design and rapid prototype firm, is in the midst of scoring an eclectic mix of patents: one for a hair-raising shaving aid and another for a new driving tool to improve motor or electric car efficiency.
The San Diego-based company, founded in 1979, started out in the nuclear power business before it started to tackle government work in 2000. But due to an anticipated shortage in upcoming federal contracts, thanks to overseas combat winding down and budget cutbacks, ICI is trying to find more work in the commercial sector.
“I think it’s a difficult time to be a small R&D firm for the military,” said David Aberizk, president of ICI and licensed professional engineer. “But we feel like we are trying to reinvent ourselves.”
This quarter, ICI started sharing lab space with General Dynamics Corp. (NYSE: GD), one of its teaming partners for Navy Command solicitations, in Mission Valley.
In late 2011 and early 2012, the company submitted utility patents for two tools: one for the auto industry and another for the grooming field. Over the past few months, Aberizk has acted as a test dummy and used both.
The point of the patents is to expand ICI's prototype microprocessor capabilities beyond its current offering of high-technology military R&D devices to include commercial product development, he said.
The first patentable concept, a slowing instrument used by drivers, uses existing regenerative hardware technology to leverage a car's momentum and store electric energy.
When a driver anticipates an upcoming stop, for example, they can push a button to get a slight slowing effect — similar to tapping brakes — to saturate the regenerator and recover energy.
“The slowing effect is very effective and consistent, so at any speed you get the same amount of slowing,” he said.
While electric-powered cars will be more efficient as a result of the tool, gas-powered cars will also see benefits. Drivers can expect efficiency increases of 3 percent to 6 percent for motor vehicles and 6 percent to 9 percent for electric cars.
Aberizk installed the device in his own Chevy Volt, and after 5,000 miles and a couple months, he reportedly started to realize an 8-percent boost in battery life.
ICI has done the legwork to define what the whole system could look like, including a standardized light independent of the brake light to inform other drivers the slowing tool is in use.
The technology can reduce conventional braking by up to 70 percent, he said.
“It’s almost like cruise control. If you want to use it, you can, and if you don’t, you don’t have to,” he said. “When gas costs $5 a gallon, drivers are motivated to want to do this.”
He recently talked to car manufacturer reps at trade shows and got mixed reviews.
“They are shying away from it because their concept is that operators don’t want to do these things,“ he said. “It’s not that the operators don’t want to do it, but the manufacturer doesn’t want to engage in this and accept liability.”
In order for the idea to come to life, federal regulators must approve a standard for the braking mechanism. Otherwise, the tool becomes a liability for the carmaker.
He has approached the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the concept but has not yet heard back.
“As electric cars proliferate, it's time to make a standard so that people can grab onto it,” he said. "Let the driver be more engaged and let their anticipatory logic step in there.”
The second pending patent couldn’t be more opposed: An electronic-pulse device that stimulates the same muscle that contracts when a person gets goose bumps.
“I found that if I could generate these goose bumps I had a much better shave,” said Aberizk, who uses his prototype to help groom his own face.
The device promises prime hair positioning for a close-to-skin blade cut, reducing skin irritation due to shaving.
The hand-held, battery-operated device produces an adjustable electrical discharge to the skin surface that stimulates microscopic skin muscles attached to skin hair follicles.
It can take up to 15 months to process patents. While he's not sure whether manufacturers like Gillette or General Motors (NYSE: GM) will ever buy the concepts, this is ICI's way of getting its foot into the door as recognized developers in the auto and shaving industries.
“They are Hail Mary passes. We are releasing these as a way of pushing ourselves in the commercial market arena and to use the staff we have,” he said.
The company is stocked with five full-time and four part-time computer-aided electronic and mechanical designers, software engineers, and technicians that take a client's product from concept to prototype hardware.
In the past few years, the company has dived into unchartered waters to score some unlikely projects.
For example, ICI lent a hand to retrofit the 230-foot Reverie, one of the largest yachts ever built in Italy, which is stocked with a pizza parlor, beauty salon, gym and helipad. Depending on the season, the boat floats in the Mediterranean, Florida and California.
ICI helped design and build a new communications mast and bridge with updated navigation instruments, and the entire yacht was modeled in 3-D to aid in future work.
Though Aberizk says his unconventional firm is “not your typical government contractor,” he hopes such projects on its resume will help score future work with the government.
“That’s the kind of work we think we can do for the Navy and we are trying to show them that,” he said.