2013-09-05 / News

NASA technology spurs innovative cellphone case for iPhone

Island native Nick Blanton is founder of new company
By Ken Shane

Nick Blanton Nick Blanton A Jamestown native has a new idea that he hopes will resolve a persistent high-tech issue. Nick Blanton plans to market cases that will protect Apple products from extreme temperatures, both hot and cold.

Blanton grew up in Jamestown and attended the local schools before enrolling in Providence’s La Salle Academy for high school. He’s been an avid skier, snowboarder and hiker from an early age, and when it came time for college, he looked for a school near mountains. After one year at the University of Utah, Blanton transferred to Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. There he studied entrepreneurship and international management.

“I was always a businessman,” said Blanton, “since the time I had lemonade stands in Jamestown.”

The lemonade stand began as a roadside business, but eventually Blanton and his brother got tired of waiting for people to stop. So the Blantons, along with their Radio Flyer wagon, began selling lemonade door-to-door. He said there weren’t many people who say “no” to a 6- and a 4-year-old.

While he was in college, Blanton noticed – as many students do – textbooks are expensive. Following graduation, he became determined to do something about it, and figured he could make some money at the same time.

He formed a partnership with a Malaysian distributor who was able to get the books for a cheaper price. Blanton would offer the texts online for a third cheaper than the bookstore, and got as many as 100 orders a day. The books were then drop-shipped from Malaysia.

The idea for the new phone and tablet cases came as a result of Blanton’s time spent skiing and snowboarding in the New England mountains, where frigid temperatures are often the rule. He would be listening to music on his iPhone and it would literally freeze up. He tried to find a case that would protect the device, but couldn’t find a company that was making one. When hiking in the summer, Blanton would find that his phone would overheat. Once again he was unable to find a case to protect it.

And so the Salt Case Company was born.

“It was almost like an invitation for someone to fix it,” Blanton said.

Blanton began to explore different thermal solutions. His original design included a thermoelectric Peltier device like the ones used in cup holders and car seats. The problem is it requires a lot of battery power. He began to look for more passive heating and cooling systems. Blanton’s search eventually led him to NASA.

“Who knows more about extreme temperatures than someone who is shooting a rocket that gets really hot into space where it gets really cold?” he said.

Blanton learned NASA had developed several kinds of thermalinsulation materials. He began trying them and eventually the combination of materials led to the Salt technology.

He explained his device works on the principle of heat transfer. One layer of insulation reflects the heat of the sun away from the case, while another layer insulates the case. To protect from the cold, a different layer of material insulates the phone like a jacket, keeping the heat generated from the device locked in.

The exterior of a Salt Case features a tweed cover with leather features. It closes with a snap. When it’s open, it serves as a stand for the phone or tablet. The case also doubles as a wallet, with a zippered pocket for money and several slots for credit cards.

“If you carry around a cellphone and a wallet in your pocket,” he said, “it becomes awfully bulky.”

Salt Cases are currently being made for Apple products, but Blanton hopes to branch out to other devices. The decision to start with Apple was because it’s the market leader in portable devices.

Blanton’s company is currently crowdsourcing to raise money. The Kickstarter campaign began two weeks ago and has until Sept. 24 to reach a goal of $27,000. The money will be used to pay the companies that manufactured the cases.

Blanton outsourced the production to China, but maintains a close relationship with the manufacturers. All ethical standards are followed, he said.

“We experimented with having the cases made in Maine, but the cases would have ended up costing over $100,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to compete with any of the other companies.”

Blanton expects the iPhone cases to sell for around $65, which is in line with most of the popular cases sold today. Contributors to the Kickstarter campaign will get a discounted price, he said.

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