Now they're working with U of T's Entrepreneurship Hatchery to bring it to market
First-year Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) student Deep Prasad (ElecE 1T7) could have studied anywhere. The Surrey, B.C., native received scholarship offers from universities across the country, but U of T Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery sealed the deal.
An inventor at heart, Prasad spent two weeks last year with his brother at his parents’ kitchen table developing a technology to reduce vampire power (also known as standby power) consumed by electrical appliances – from concept to working prototype. He knew he was behind something special and The Hatchery promised the tools and the mentorship to take the prototype from pipe dream to marketable product.
“Deep’s curiosity and eagerness to explore is very inspiring,” says Joseph Orozco, director of The Entrepreneurship Hatchery. “We are proud that The Hatchery factored into his decision to study at U of T.”
U of T Engineering’s Jamie Hunter sat down with the budding entrepreneur to learn more about Prasad’s Hatchery project, first-year experiences and how he convinced his brother to join him at U of T.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in engineering?
I did have the typical childhood dream of becoming an astronaut or a doctor – then I became really interested in neuroscience and the way that the brain works, and until Grade 11, wanted to become a neurosurgeon. I had everything planned out. But then I realized that what I always wanted to be was an inventor.
One of the things about inventing is that you need the knowledge and skill to bring your ideas to life, and engineering was the perfect program for that.
Why did you choose U of T Engineering?
I looked at the [U of T Engineering] booklet and I realized there were two things setting U of T apart: the fact that [Engineering] has a co-op program [Professional Experience Year (PEY)] and The Hatchery. That was amazing. I realized that this is actually a place where I can foster my needs for innovation. This university understands that if I want to make something, I can, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now.
How has your first year been? Did it meet your expectations?
For sure. The first months were really difficult … but there was actually a lot of help: facilitated study group sessions that the university organizes and then other study sessions that I organized myself because I’m the ECE rep. I had the power to email everybody and say, ‘Hey, if you’re struggling with this or if you’re good at that, let’s meet up because our skills complement each other.’ I used that to my advantage and I was able to figure it out.
Can you share some details about your involvement with The Hatchery?
One of the things we completely overlook in the average household is something called vampire power [the electric power consumed by electronic and electrical appliances while they are switched off]. Every single electronic appliance creates vampire power, even when you aren’t using it.
But who has the time to go around in the morning, before they leave for work or for school, to unplug all of those things? I decided with my younger brother to create something to battle this vampire power … so over spring break last year we did some research and got to work.
After two weeks we were really happy with the prototype [specific details about the project cannot be disclosed at this stage.] We had never worked so hard. I remember the first time we got it to work, when I pressed that off button on my phone and three of my lamps turned off in my room at once, it was probably the coolest experience ever. We’ve actually been able to reduce our electricity bill by 25 per cent just by getting rid of all the vampire power.
We really hope that through The Hatchery, we can get this product out to as many people as we can. Maybe on just a one-house scale, we save, like, $5-$10 – big deal – but when you have millions of households, that’s tens of millions of dollars saved, literally, on wasted energy.
I understand your brother, Amrit, is joining you at U of T Engineering in the fall. How did that come about?
He’s in grade 12 right now, and he had the same problem about deciding what university to go to, because we had scholarships everywhere. So it was just a matter of where we were going to fit in best; what we were going to like the most. When he saw all of the opportunities I’d been given, he realized that he wants to do a lot of things that I want to do because we have very similar goals.
Before I got into The Hatchery it was really like a pipe dream, in a way. We didn’t have the money or the resources to realistically give [the prototype] out to an entire country, a city or a neighbourhood. But when we heard that there are things like The Hatchery that are ready to help, and the fact that we had a chance at it, I think that was enough for him. That was the tipping point.
What sort of legacy do you want to leave behind at U of T Engineering? What do you want to be remembered for?
Definitely innovation. I have hundreds of really crazy ideas and I want to be known as the guy who actually made those possible. A dream that both my brother and I share is that by the time we graduate we want to be able to completely control everything in our house with our thoughts. I know that’s very much like an X-Men kind of thing, but there are these things called EEGs [electroencephalography] that basically read your brainwaves. You can use those brainwaves and convert them to a digital and analogue input, and use those inputs to program something. At some point, I want to be able to walk inside my home and think: close blinds. And the blinds will shut.
Prasad is already on his way to realizing the dream of automating his entire house. He plans to work on developing a video game this summer that is controlled completely by thought. He’s already organized a team interested in working on the project.