Bright sparks

30 September 2011
Fady Mishriki
Fady Mishriki

Delivering electricity without plugs or cables may sound like science fiction but engineering and commerce graduate Fady Mishriki (pictured left) has turned it into commercial fact.

While still a student at The University of Auckland in 2005, Fady saw a way to take the Inductive Power Transfer that had been pioneered by electrical engineer Professor John Boys and build a business delivering high-efficiency wireless power solutions in situations where power cables and connections are expensive and unreliable.

With the support of the University-backed business incubator ICEHOUSE and UniServices, the University’s commercialisation company, Fady is now CEO of PowerbyProxi, a global leader in providing wireless applications for aerospace, security systems, off-road vehicles and industrial robotics. The company has more than 30 customers including Fortune 100 companies and it has offices in New Zealand, the United States, Japan and Spain.

In Spain, Fady and his team have had their latest break-through. Spain is the world’s third largest producer of wind power and PowerbyProxi has just completed ground-breaking trials to replace conventional slip rings in the turbines with its wireless technology.

“The challenge with wind-generation is maintenance costs”, says Fady. “Modern wind turbines include control systems to alter the pitch of the rotating blades to make best use of available breezes and also turn them away from excessively high winds to avoid damage.

“These pitch control systems are connected through the rotating turbines hub using a mechanical slip ring, which looks something like the disc brakes on your car. The slip ring is prone to getting dust inside, wearing out or breaking down. We have replaced it with a Proxi-Ring™ 480 that makes the same connection without touching. It doesn’t rust, it’s waterproof and it doesn’t need cleaning or maintenance.” IM FutuRe, one of Spain’s leading wind turbine maintenance operations, has signed up PowerbyProxi for an initial roll out to 500 turbines.

Fady, who was born in Bahrain, was one of the founders of Spark, The University of Auckland’s student-led entrepreneurial competition that has kick-started more than 70 companies, raised over $85 million of capital and created 230 jobs. “Once I got involved in Spark I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Entrepreneurship was in my upbringing. I saw my project in wireless electricity as a chance to combine business and technology.”

He then teamed up with the former CEO of Microsoft New Zealand, Greg Cross. They launched PowerbyProxi in 2007 and were joined by fellow engineering student Kunal Bhargava (picture right) as product development manager.

Their first big break came quickly when they secured John Deere, the world’s largest maker of farm and forestry equipment, as an investor and customer.

PowerbyProxi still maintains strong ties to the University. Six University-trained engineers are based at the Auckland office and Fady is working with Dr Patrick Hu’s Electrical and Computer Engineering laboratory to create a large research framework.

“We want to invest in training the next generation of wireless power engineers,” says Fady, “many of whom will have the opportunity to work for us.”