Alumni Update: Alumni create device to monitor horse health
When his brother’s horse died suddenly from colic in 2013, Michael Schab ’09 (computer engineering) saw an opportunity to create something that would prevent other equestrians from losing their beloved animals to this preventable affliction.
Schab and his business partner, Roger Vonderahe ’87 (manufacturing engineering technology), collaborated with Protequus, LLC—a company owned by Schab’s brother Jeffrey—to make a wearable device for horses called NIGHTWATCH that would allow owners to remotely monitor their animal’s biometrics and behavior. This device served as a springboard project for their start-up company NRGXP.
“Our product can tell you when your horse’s behaviors and biometrics stray from normal, and we can notify the user using a distress alert,” said Schab. “The more the horse wears it, the more the device learns and the more accurate it becomes.”
Colic is the second most common cause of death for horses, and it can develop quickly, making it difficult to detect when a horse is left unattended. By measuring the horse’s biometrics and behavior, NIGHTWATCH can alert owners at the first sign of distress.
NIGHTWATCH is the first of its kind and the first consumer product for this growing start-up, which helps clients develop and commercialize their products. The company focuses on building Internet of Things connected devices.
There was no off-the-shelf hardware or software that NRGXP employees could adapt for NIGHTWATCH. The company had to create everything from the ground up. “We blend software development, electrical and mechanical engineering and industrial design into one workplace,” Schab said.
Vonderahe said that it can be difficult for companies to find vendors willing to work on products and solutions that don’t fit nicely into an established development process.
“We thought that maybe we could do something about that,” said Vonderahe.
NRGXP works to create everything in-house or locally. To achieve this goal, Schab and Vonderahe hired Jason Pennell ’09 (industrial design) and Ryan Bowen ’08, ’13 MS (computer engineering), ’15 Ph.D. (microsystems engineering) to help with the product design and software development.
Others on the growing staff include David Campbell ’10 MS (product development), Tucker Graydon ’16, ’18 MS (electrical engineering) and Justin Lottes, who graduated from the University of Southern California in 2011 with a degree in computer science.
With such diverse areas of expertise, the team’s ambition to work on new projects is never lacking. They are always pursuing the next big opportunity.
“Where we will go next, it can be difficult to say,” said Schab. “All we know is that we are eager to keep innovating.”