Mobile phone charging system gets test drive at Baltimore Grand Prix

Just in time for the Grand Prix of Baltimore on Labor Day weekend, a local technology company is offering spectators a way to keep their mobile phone batteries charged as they watch the races.

NV3 Technologies, a Canton-based maker of rapid-charging kiosks for cellphones, will make available a custom-made trailer that can charge up to 72 mobile devices at one time. It will be located on Ravens Walk, which connects Orioles Park at Camden Yards with M&T; Bank Stadium.


Soon, NV3 also will launch a pilot program with Arrow Cab, a Baltimore taxi company, where another version of its battery-charging technology will be installed in the backs of 10 cabs. NV3's system can fully recharge phones in 15 minutes or less.

Increasingly, consumers have power-hungry smartphones that need charging daily — sometimes more than once a day. NV3 sells its kiosks — complete with high-resolution touch screens or monitors, with a variety of phone-charging adapters — to businesses that want to install digital advertising in high-traffic areas. The companies control the kiosks and can show digital ads to customers while they wait for a charge.


"You're going to plug in your cellphone, and you're not going to walk away," said Ryan Doak, co-founder of NV3. "You'll look at the screen and interact with it."

You are, quite literally, a tethered audience to NV3's kiosks, for at least a quarter of an hour.

The digital signage market is growing. Last year, worldwide sales of components for digital displays, such as LCD screens and media players — was $5.5 billion, and it is projected to grow more than 8 percent a year, according to IMS Research, an electronics industry market research firm.

Convention centers, universities, tourist attractions, hotels, malls and airports are all looking for slick ways to get messages in front of busy people.

Consumers often are stuck looking for spots to recharge their devices, from coffee shops to airport outlets. NV3 is banking on people's need to plug in their gadgets at big events, such as the Grand Prix and at all-day conventions, or when they have some downtime riding in the backs of cabs.

David Drain, executive director of the Digital Screenmedia Association, a trade group that represents companies in the interactive display business, said there are several competitors that make kiosks that can charge mobile devices. Most companies, Drain said, are pursuing an advertising model, rather than charging consumers a fee to power their phones.

The reasons are plenty. As touch screens and LCD monitors have gotten cheaper, they've been embedded in gas station pumps, elevators, bathrooms, museums and self-service kiosks that offer DVDs or other products. The screens offer more opportunities for digital advertising.

"There are many reasons for the explosion of these types of technologies," Drain said.


Doak and his partner, Scott Calhoun, figure that people who use their kiosks to charge their phones also have an opportunity to interact with the touch screens. The company sells the kiosk's hardware and software to customers, and then also makes money by selling support services and some advertising, Doak said.

The pair started experimenting with phone-charging technologies several years ago. They built some devices with the help of Chinese manufacturers. But the Chinese wanted to build coin-operated kiosks with small video screens, Doak said.

Doak and Calhoun thought there was a bigger market in building interactive kiosks with large video screens that could display advertising. The revenue opportunity is bigger, Doak said. (He declined to release the company's revenues.)

The customer who buys an NV3 kiosk can control the advertising, but NV3 also offers its own advertising network to its kiosk customers. Major customers include the Wall Street Journal, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T;, which use the kiosks at trade shows as customer engagement tools.

The charging system the company is developing for taxis is the first of its kind on the market, Doak said.

Mike Levine, owner of Arrow Cab, said if the pilot project goes well and cab riders like the chargers, he would consider installing them across his fleet of 150 taxis in Baltimore.


He said NV3 would pay his company a per-car fee to install the chargers, which would be placed in the back seat and encased in plexiglass with attachments for mobile devices. Levine said he wasn't sure if NV3 would ultimately charge a small fee for riders to power their devices.

"If the public seems to want it, and there's income potential and they're willing to pay us for it, I have no problem with it," Levine said.