It might not be easy today, but imagine working outside on a 95-degree summer afternoon and staying comfortably cool. This innovation is coming soon, thanks to technology developed by engineering researchers at the University of Maryland and now being commercialized by Mobile Comfort, a Beltsville, Md.-based company run by Maryland Smith alumnus Todd Stave ’89.

Mobile Comfort’s RoCo device is a personal, portable air conditioning unit for places where conventional AC is impossible, impractical or inefficient. Unlike fans that just move air, the RoCo’s “smart nozzle” directs cold air to cool the space around an individual, eliminating wasted energy and saving money.

The RoCo’s also features a patented technology that stores the heat generated in the cooling process rather than immediately expelling it back into the air like a traditional air conditioning unit.

“It’s a lot more efficient to cool people than it is to cool an entire space,” Stave said. “Look at the room you’re in now and recognize that you take up a very small percentage of it. Making you comfortable would be a lot less energy consuming than making the whole room comfortable.”

This isn’t Stave’s first run at taking technology innovation to market. But it is the first time he’s working with his alma mater. Mechanical engineering professor Reinhard Radermacher, who is also director of the Center for Environmental Energy Engineering, invented the technology and had a U.S. Department of Energy grant for commercialization.

A veteran entrepreneurial consultant, Stave lined up private funding to bring the technology to market and inked a deal with a major air conditioning manufacturer for expertise and sales rights in Asia. He also helped the engineers realize the need for a critical shift.

Initially, the RoCo was designed to be on a robotic platform to follow factory workers around to keep them cool. But Stave found that people he talked to thought it would be creepy or get in the way. Now the platform is gone, replaced by a nozzle that tracks and directs airflow, and casters that allow the device to be moved around the room, a change significantly reduced the potential cost of the device.

Now Mobile Comfort is gearing up to run its first RoCo beta test in summer 2019 and hopes to start manufacturing the devices for consumer purchase in 2020 at a $400 price point.

“From a technology perspective, every hardware, every invention is a lot harder than people think it is,” Stave says. “Designing something and getting it to market is really time consuming, really expensive and really difficult to get right.”