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Irish student turns a mobile phone into a VHF radio

by Niall Murray, Irish Examiner/Sail-World on 23 Apr 2014
Sean Toomey with his Casemate invention - photo from Irish Examiner SW
Whether we like it or not, many weekend sailors are going to sea depending on their mobile phones for reporting an emergency. This, naturally, is fraught with danger in so many ways - you can be out of range, and you can't even contact the other boats in your vicinity. Now, thanks to an Irish student, that may be about to change, because he has invented a phone-case which turns the phone into a VHF radio!

Seán Toomey, a 23-year-old student at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), came up with the idea for his waterproof VHF invention, called Casemate, last year as a thesis project for his product design degree.

He is now hoping a partner firm will be found to put it into production (and so are we).

Seán's personal experience led him to do some research. 'More people are now relying on phones in case they have an emergency,' he told the Irish Examiner, 'but I spoke to a few people at the Royal National Lifesaving Institution (RNLI) in Dún Laoghaire. They said it was a problem in some cases they responded to, where people had tried unsuccessfully to raise the alarm using mobile phones.'

While there are many waterproof phone cases on the market, Seán’s design also includes the electronics that enable VHF radio communication, which are not found in even the smartest of smartphones. By sliding the phone into the case and connecting it to an in-built connector — which also doubles as a charger — the user has a VHF radio that can be activated very simply through a phone app.

The buoyant prototype was successfully trialled last year, but Seán is still finalising design and software in his spare time, having started work this year for Dyson near Bristol in England.

The firm is recruiting in Irish colleges for bright young minds with inventive ideas in a drive to recruit 400 engineers for its expanding technology range.

For DIT Hothouse, the college’s innovation and technology transfer centre, the aim is to find a commercial partner to take on Seán’s patent-pending technology and sell it to consumers. Ideally, it should retail for less than €100, with VHF handheld radios currently available to buy for between €50 and €200.

'I would love to think if it was taken up and made available, that it could get into as many hands as possible,' Seán said.

Sail-World agrees with you Seán, as it could be a real break-through for coastal sailors. If YOU want more information about the invention or know of an avenue for this invention's commercialisation, here are the details:

Contact Dermot Tierney, DIT Hothouse Senior Licensing Executive email dermot.tierney@dit.ie

DIT Hothouse Technology Transfer Office
Aungier Street
Dublin 2

T: + 353 1 402 7179
E: hothouse@dit.ie

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