CLAYTON — When Master Sgt. Robert Poole returned from a deployment and took his kids on a camping trip, he had no clue he’d return with an idea for an invention.
Poole, a graduate of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, designed the CanKeeper, a lidded, double-hinged can holder that allows the consumer to drink from an insulated container and then snap the lid closed when the person is not drinking from it.
“I got the idea when I left my drink on the picnic table to go tend to the burgers on the grill,” Poole said. “When I came back and took a sip of my drink, I almost swallowed a yellow jacket.”
Poole was camping at the time in the North Carolina mountains, where the bees and yellow jackets are notorious for sneaking in to all kinds of uncovered beverages.
“The rest of the weekend I had to put a paper towel on the top of my drink and secure it with a rock, or the yellow jackets would drink more of it than me,” Poole said.
After coming home, Poole began work on a prototype.
“I took my idea to Ray Reynolds, an engineer at Raleigh Precision Products in Kenly and told him what I wanted to do. He made some suggestions, especially to have a hinge and not a snap-on lid, which saved having to build two molds,” Poole said.
Then Poole went to patent attorneys to protect his idea with the filing of a patent.
After having a prototype built and raising about $50,000 by garnering shareholders, Poole went to work on getting a steel mold built.
“It was a roller coaster ride with a lot of problems getting the mold built, but that’s over and now the fun begins,” Poole said.
The CanKeeper, which Poole said will one day feature a hole for a straw, can do more than keeps the bees out.
“I performed an experiment in 90-degree weather with the CanKeeper,” Poole said. “Without the protection of the CanKeeper, the soft drink went from 40 degrees to 50 degrees in five minutes, and to 61 degrees in 10 minutes. With the CanKeeper, the temperature rose only 4 degrees in five minutes and 9 degrees in 10 minutes. I didn’t know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. So not only does it by design definitely keep the yellow jackets out when the lid is closed, but it also keeps your beverage much colder.”
The CanKeeper is on sale at Food Town, City Florist, and Hudson’s Hardware and Howard’s Mini Mart in Clayton. Poole has already sold more than 2,000. An assortment of CanKeepers with different artwork can be found at www.cankeeper.net.
“This is going to be a lot of fun selling. All you have to do is let the consumer see one and how it works, and it sells itself,” Poole said.
Poole thinks the future is bright.
“Once the consumer sees the benefits of the CanKeeper and can get one with his or her favorite College or Pro team’s logo, sales should skyrocket,” said Poole. “I’ve got a lot of my own money in this, so I am definitely hoping that time gets here a lot sooner rather than later.”
Poole will be donating some of his profits to the Wounded Warrior Project.