Three University of Idaho graduates have developed a safety device that utility workers clip onto their hard hats. It beeps and flashes when workers approach a high-voltage electrical source, reducing the risk of electrocution.

During their senior year, the men racked up multiple honors and $30,000 in prize money in business entrepreneur competitions. The graduates figured the money would cover the initial costs of launching their startup, Safeguard Equipment Inc.

Safeguard Equipment made its first official sale in July – there were a few small sales in late 2017, Ledford said. The company recently landed another round of investor funding from Avista Corp. and Cowles Co., the owner of The Spokesman-Review. The partners will use the seed money to scale up operations and develop additional products.

The men presented other products in business competitions, but when they started pitching the voltage and current detector, they knew they were on to something.

“People were bringing OSHA representatives over to talk to us,” one said. “The industry is hungry for innovation in safety.”

Utilities’ safety officials also wanted to meet with them. “They were feeding us ideas,” said one of the grads.

The partners originally pictured a wrist-band style device. During meetings with Avista safety officials, however, they realized that wouldn’t be practical for utility workers, who wear heavy rubber gloves, or firefighters, another target audience for the product.

Avista’s feedback led to design modifications, resulting a product that clips onto the underside brim of a hardhat.

The $449 device sells under the trademark name Compass. The device uses military-grade sensors to detect the electrical or magnetic fields of energized sources. Compass gives the distance and direction to the electrical source, with beeps and flashing lights that increase in magnitude as the worker gets closer.

Workers can turn off the device when they’ve identified the energized source.

Compass uses a lithium battery that can hold its charge for up to four days. During emergencies, utility employees work extended shifts, so the long battery life is important.

Compass has applications in work settings beyond the utility industry, such as factories and firefighting.

Source: The Spokesman-Review Spokane, WA