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Larry Robertson, CEO of AON Invent of Bella Vista, recently acquired the worldwide rights to IsoTruss, an ultra-strong carbon fiber design of isosceles triangles developed by Brigham Young professor David Jensen. Robertson is in the process of raising capital to build an IsoTruss manufaturing facility west of Bentonville in Hiwasse.
Friday, November 8, 2013–Larry Robertson wants to change the world, and he thinks he has the technology to do just that.
Robertson, CEO of AON Invent in Bella Vista, recently acquired exclusive worldwide rights to IsoTruss, a lightweight, incredibly strong building material developed by Dr. David Jensen at Brigham Young University.
A career shepherd of ideas and invention, Robertson says he’s always been on the lookout for the next best thing. With IsoTruss, he thinks he’s found it.
“This will change the world, no doubt,” he said.
Made of thousands of strands of carbon fiber, IsoTruss is 12 times stronger than steel and 83 percent lighter. What gives it such strength is the network of isosceles triangles that form a truss of pyramids that distribute stress. IsoTruss needs little to no maintenance, does not rot or corrode and is impervious to insects and disease.
The aspect of IsoTruss that requires licensing is not the material, but the system of interlocking pyramids developed by Jensen, a professor at BYU and a graduate of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the nation’s leading university aerospace program.
The design, Robertson says, is ideal for utility poles, crating, construction and even aeronautics. Some of the bigger ideas that Robertson has in mind include using IsoTruss to build out the power grid in Africa and in remote Arctic areas.
“Imagine globally what the potential is,” he said. “It’s literally mindboggling.”
The trick, however, is to mass produce IsoTruss and use it in a broad array of applications, which to this point has proved easier said than done. As many as five previous rights holders have taken on IsoTruss, and all have failed. But Robertson says he has a plan.
He is currently seeking enough venture capital, as much as $2 million, to build an IsoTruss production and training facility west of Bentonville in Hiwasse, where an IsoTruss licensee, Todd Mains, is based.
Mains, founder of Zum Toyz and builder of the Zum balance bike, wants to expand on his line of outdoor gear by manufacturing trekking poles, backpack frames and other accessories out of IsoTruss.
At the same time, Mains would serve as the point man for other licensees wanting to learn how to manufacture and use IsoTruss.
“I’m excited by the potential it represents,” Mains said. “This could be a game-changer in a lot of industries.”
That Robertson and his AON wound up with IsoTruss was not a random accident. In the process of scouting for new opportunities for Zum Toyz, Mains heard of Robertson and his experience with retail, inventions and patents. When it came time to approach Brigham Young, it didn’t hurt that Mains was an alumnus of the university.
Main and Robertson travelled to Provo to talk with Brigham Young officials and made a good impression.
“Quite a few groups have approached us and have courted us,” said Spencer Rogers, associate director at the BYU Technology Transfer center. “We vetted [Robertson] and his offer and we’ve got the utmost confidence in him. We didn’t enter into this agreement lightly.”
Robertson also enjoys the support of Jensen.
“This is not something that you hand off and then disappear into the sunset,” Jensen said. “We want it moved out of the university and into a broad range of applications.”
Like Robertson, Jensen sees the technology as ideal for utility poles, automobiles, trains and aircraft.
“The possibilities are endless,” Jensen said.
Through the process of acquiring the rights to IsoTruss, Robertson has had occasion to meet in person with Jensen, Rogers and Mains. Common words used to describe Robertson are “energetic” and “interesting.” And Robertson knows it will take a big personality and an eagerness to embrace big ideas if IsoTruss is to succeed.
“Someone wants to build a 30-story building with this stuff, and you can,” he said. “This will replace wood, concrete and steel.”