- Associated Press - Friday, November 28, 2014

LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) - Setting aside the question of how your new iPhone ended up in the toilet, it’s a safe bet that such a situation isn’t going to turn out well.

Water and electricity don’t mix, as many owners of soggy electronic devices can attest.

Yet there’s hope. And it doesn’t come in a 5-pound bag of rice.

Three former University of Denver graduate students have patented a process that in just 20 minutes will dry out a cellphone or laptop computer after a dunking.

They’re just starting to deploy the TekDry system, and one of the first three machines has gone to a cellphone repair shop in Loveland.

Co-inventor Craig Beinecke said the often fatal damage to an electronic device usually is the result of operator error, rather than the initial wetting.

“It’s people’s behavior that often kills the phone,” he said.

Turning on a wet phone to see if it works or plugging it in to charge the battery, while natural reactions, are a bad idea, he said. Such actions can short out the device.

Forget about the Rice

The next misstep is putting the phone or camera or tablet in a container of rice, which in theory will draw out the water.

“Our biggest competitor is rice,” Beinecke said. “It’s no joke. The Internet has spawned that as your only hope.”

The problem is, putting your phone in rice is even less effective than just leaving it on the counter to air-dry, according to a recent test commissioned by Beinecke and his co-founders, Adam Cookson and Eric Jones. And because the drying is slow and usually incomplete, the water inside has more time to cause corrosion and other damage.

Natalie Dunn, manager of sales and business development for TekDry, said another no-no is using a hair dryer to try to rescue a phone.

“The blow-dryer is another myth,” she said. “It actually pushes the water in and creates a worse outcome.”

She recommended turning off a wet phone, removing the battery and SIM card if possible and taking or sending it to a TekDry facility, ideally within 48 hours.

The patented TekDry process uses a combination of negative pressure (a vacuum) and low heat to draw water out of a device. Sensors on the machine keep track of the humidity in the drying chamber.

TekDry charges $69.99 to dry out a smartphone, $149.99 for a tablet computer and $249.99 for a laptop. Devices can be dropped off at a TekDry location or mailed using overnight delivery. TekDry will mail them back at no additional charge.

If the rescue attempt is unsuccessful, TekDry charges nothing.

“We’ve rescued several MacBooks, tablets and a Mercedes car key fob,” Beinecke said Tuesday. “Yesterday we had our first Bluetooth headset. We think there’s a lot of potential for medical devices such as hearing aids.”

Beinecke enjoys telling of his young company’s success stories, including the phone that was drenched in Diet Coke overnight and the iPhone 5 that sat at the bottom of Lake Granby for 36 hours before “a 9-year-old girl conned her brother into diving in for it.”

TekDry says 22 million people drown their phones every year, so it’s getting in on the ground floor of a growth industry.

A manufacturer in Louisville is building machines that the company plans to deploy across the country, Beinecke said. “We’ll be looking for more retail partners across the nation now.”

So far, the company has its machines in the CPR (Cell Phone Repair) stores in Loveland and on the 16th Street Mall in Denver and in a TekDry storefront in Westminster that doubles as company headquarters.

The Loveland CPR shop at 1550 Fall River Drive sees five to seven wet phones a week, said store manager Eric Proffitt.

Since getting the TekDry machine a little over a week ago, CPR has “had some great success with it,” he said. “The phones are good to go.”

Before the new technology became available, his technicians would take apart a phone, clean it ultrasonically to remove corrosion and reflow the solder points in a process that took 30 to 45 minutes and could cost $75, Proffitt said.

Even if that work didn’t fix a phone, the customer would be out the first $45, he said.

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