From LED penlight to colored skate lights
By Loralee Stevens, Special to the Business Journal
SANTA ROSA — Snoopy’s Home Ice arena seems an unlikely spot for a flash of innovation, but that’s what happened when Ralph Haney, skating with his wife and daughter, idly turned on an LED penlight he had in his pocket.
“Suddenly we were skating on wonderful blue light,” he said. “It was mesmerizing. Then the rink manager called me over. I thought I was in trouble for using electronics on the ice, but he wanted to know how I was doing it.”
Mr. Haney, an IT specialist for Duckhorn Vineyards in the Napa Valley, bought five more penlights and duct-taped them to his skates so that light reflected off the ice. The effect was dramatic.
“I knew I was onto something,” he said.
And that was the beginning of Glo-Blades International (glo-blades.com). Incorporated in mid-2011, the company has patents pending in the U.S. and Canada, an advisory board listing former U.S. Olympic team skaters and an office at the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster in Rohnert Park.
Mr. Haney’s first prototype was held together with glue, but he soon found a local engineer who could fashion a better design to his specifications.
“I wanted to see multiple colors and fading via remote control,” he said.
During the past couple of years the Glo-Blades product has evolved into an attachable unit with a set of controls built into a wireless glove. Touch your thumb to a finger, and brilliant lights — in your choice of a palette of neon hues — can be faded in and out as you skate.
“It’s safe and intuitive,” said Mr. Haney, who spent many hours testing his ideas on the ice.
It’s the wireless glove — with its potential for integration with many other wireless devices — that sets Glo-Blades apart from other lighted skating accessories.
Mr. Haney and four partners have raised $50,000 so far developing the retail prototype. It’s currently being costed out in Asia where the group has a turn-key sourcing partner, he said. They’re just months from launch.
“First we’ll release a basic, no-frills product with lights but no wireless control, which we call the bronze unit,” said Mr. Haney, an Olympics fan. “It’ll most likely retail for under $40. Then we’re ready to follow up with the next products.”
The partners are looking for venture capital — $250,000–$500,000 — to complete the line and take it to market.
The silver unit will include the wireless glove and the gold, still under development, will be for skating rinks to rent to their customers. Glo-Blades has letters of intent from Snoopy’s Home Ice and several other rinks where he has demonstrated the effect.
“We’re trying to keep the technology under our hats prior to launch, but I can’t help showing it off at a few skating arenas, and whenever I do they want it immediately,” he said.
Kevin McCool, ice arena manager for Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa, is eager for the Glo-Blades rental unit to arrive.
“I’ve seen a lot of different types of lighting special effects, but nothing quite like these. People are always asking about where they can get a set for their skates,” he said. “They’re sure to be a hit here and everywhere … hopefully soon.”
Several arenas are considering special programs for night hockey featuring lighted skates, said Mr. Haney, as well as skating sessions dedicated to “Skating on Light,” a phrase trademarked by the company.
“There are loads of exciting possibilities: coordinating the lights with sound, for example, and with arena lighting. It could revolutionize skating as a recreation,” said Mr. Haney.
Glo-Blades also work well on in-line skates, turning night rollerblading into a colorful spectacle on a rink or on the street, where the lights increase safety.
Justin Higgs, general manager of Snoopy’s Home Ice, said he expects Glo-Blades will be a big seller in the rink’s retail store. “People love to personalize their skates. The kids especially love anything in bright colors.”
Mr. Haney and his family generated lots of interest when they were testing their products, he said.
“What kid wouldn’t want them?” said Mr. McCool.
Do you know of an innovator or an innovative product or service in the North Bay (Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Solano, Mendocino and Lake counties) that you think should be featured in the Innovation column? We’d love to hear about it (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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