back to article Is uBeam the new Theranos?

A former VP of engineering at a startup that promises fast, wireless charging of electronic devices has claimed that the technology doesn't work and its CEO is misleading people. The engineer in question, Paul Reynolds, posted his claims - as well as a number of other critical pieces on uBeam's CEO Meredith Perry - on a …

  1. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    Possible .NE. Practical

    It's an obviously-stupid concept.

    As alternative to Inductive Charging (ultra short range, non-contact) it might work. Except it would be worse in every possible parameter.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Possible .NE. Practical

      As alternative to Inductive Charging (ultra short range, non-contact) it might work

      .. if whatever you're charging is OK with 1% of the supply current you'd get hanging off a cable or being charged inductively, and it's likely less, because to make good on their claim that cats & dogs won't hear it (anyone know any other animals that may hear above that frequency? Bats?) they'd have to go above 60 kHz at which point even the relative optimistic calculations by someone who knows what he's talking about (coz' he happens to be a REAL expert with degrees and stuff) no longer apply.

      It is correct: things just don't add up and frankly, it demonstrates an appalling lack of basic physics education on the side of the investors - even I know that losses with audio transmission are considerable.

      Having said that, the whole investment game over there is insane and seems to be more driven by "advisers" that get a percentage of the funding they haul in than by sanity, and we all know what happens when you allow people to make a profit without being made responsible for the outcome. If not, look up "subprime mortgages", that may help. The CEO gets paid stupid amounts of money BEFORE she has produced anything of value, the adviser walks away with a fat packet but as far as ROI is concerned, it doesn't appear that there is anyone out there that does proper due diligence.

      It's a shame it's in the US. Any other place I wouldn't mind moving to and help in due diligence because I can save them a *fortune* by basically applying common sense. That's the benefit of age (well, before dementia sets in :) ).

      1. Howard Long

        Re: Possible .NE. Practical

        This ^

        It is indeed difficult to differentiate the entire tech VC market from a pyramid, Ponzi or straight scam.

        The sheer lack of quality due diligence is shocking. When you hear of the supposed VC experts who, after a fifteen minute meeting send in their "expert advisors" to due a half hour due diligence, and generate $24m in investment off the back of it it is truly shocking.

        Worse, Mark Suster, who's on the board of uBeam and whose outfit Upfront Ventures invested $10m wrote a nlog about how let down he feels, and how difficult if is when you've been shouted out, sorry, hoist by your own petard, oops, no, I mean shafted by the very press who drank you koolaid

        https://bothsidesofthetable.com/what-is-it-like-to-wake-up-and-have-the-press-ready-to-torpedo-your-business-351f27ca6d67#.jl9ckeho9

        Even more shocking is when Techcrunch, whose founders have their own investment links with uBeam, and who've repeatedly bigged-up uBeam, have an article also questioning their own darling.

        http://techcrunch.com/2016/05/11/charged/?ncid=rss&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

        Not only is it the whole VC tech investment crowd who have questions to answer, it's also the tech press and media who're in bed with them encouraging endless puff pieces (El Reg, I assume, can be excepted in this case, but it is rare to find a journo who doesn't enjoy a freebie in exchange for puffery!)

        If we don't see some negligence claims in the near future levelled against the tech VC crowd it'll only be because the SEC have got in there first.

        1. streaky
          Stop

          Re: Possible .NE. Practical

          It's interesting that what we're essentially talking about is fraud, which is the well-documented canary in coal mine of a bubble.

          Stuff that always bothers me with tech bubbles is they harm the competent more than the incompetent. Those of us working hard and making the business world and investors actual returns find it difficult to get investment in tech because the investors throwing cash at stupid are always busy running for the hills after getting burnt.

          The entire deal is harmful to progress; and the worst part is it's easily preventable with liberal application of a clue stick.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Possible .NE. Practical

            It's interesting that what we're essentially talking about is fraud...

            Well, either that or incredible optimism combined with a severe lack of knowledge of the basic laws of physics. A condition which seems to be prevalent in many "entrepreneurs".

  2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Hype

    A major problem with many is ideas is the hype machine gets a hold of them while they are still in the early development. I am not familiar with uBeam and their idea but it sounds like it is not ready for commercial release. It may prove to be an idea that sounds good on paper but will not be a market success even if it works reasonable well.

    The hype machine is looking for the next major financial windfall but is badly underestimating the difficulties of bring a product to market.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Hype

      It may prove to be an idea that sounds good on paper

      I see what you did there.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hype

      "..sounds like it is not ready for commercial release.."

      Sounds to me like it is not physically possible.

      At least not possible in a charging device that would consume a reasonable amount of power, charge a battery in a reasonable amount of time, work over more than very short distances and not be a hazard to living organisms near by.

  3. inmypjs Silver badge

    "we hope that the community will judge us by the product we release in the market"

    Not much to worry about then because nothing will ever be released to the market.

    The whole idea is ridiculous and the woman is a loon.

    I know the business of venture capitalists is to take a punt, but, getting some to back such an obvious loser must be her greatest achievement.

  4. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "Its article also unwittingly added weight to a growing criticism of both the tech press and the venture capitalist industry: self-justification. The very fact that VCs had put money into the company was itself prove that the technology must work, Techcrunch argued, despite being shown no evidence that the technology works."

    Unicorns are real - the fairies that live at the bottom of my garden told me so.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Trollface

      Unicorns would spell "was itself prove that" as "was itself proof that".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Unicorns would spell "was itself prove that" as "was itself proof that".

        Hmm, I don't know about that. I suspect that if you're typing with hooves you become rather dependent on auto-correct, which usually isn't..

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Unicorns can't really type, so they must be getting the fairies to do it, thus the speling errors.

          1. sabroni Silver badge

            Duh! Unicorns type with their horns. Very precise, but pointy.

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              > Duh! Unicorns type with their horns. Very precise, but pointy.

              That explains why they get through so many keyboards. Especially the ones with serious anger issues..

  5. quattroprorocked

    Do the maths

    So if you think in terms of loud noises and the amount of energy in the sound wave, even allowing for 100% efficiency at the receiving end some basic number crunching suggests that to be taken seriously this claim requires extraordinary proof.

    Methinks someone mistyped something by a power of ten or several.

    While it behoves scientists to do VC maths in order to enter into things eyes open, ditto VC should be able to do science math for ditto reasons.

  6. Aslan

    It's possible to get energy from sound, just not very much

    It's possible to get energy from sound, just not very much. I once heard an explanation of why no one bothered, If you took a football stadium full of fans for a full 3 hour game and converted all of the sound waves to energy it would only be enough to boil a teacup full of water. I heard this a long time ago and Google doesn't want to pull up anything remotely close to this.

    Now, if we were talking about low frequency sound I'd find this a bit more believable, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZS3xOcalH0

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: It's possible to get energy from sound, just not very much

      a football stadium full of fans for a full 3 hour game

      You must be talking about American football. But I agree with you on the energy collection. By building a piezoelectric layer into the astroturf you could probably collect more energy from the 14 minutes of actual play in those three hours than from the fans cheering.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Doing the maths never stopped Merkins handing cash out to plausible types.

    NASP was started by a very optimistic report from the principal promoter investigator.

    When the USAF actually had an independent assessment done they found he'd even got the properties of the air flowing through the system favorably wrong.

    By then the USG had spent around $1Bn+ trying to make it work.

    Perhaps this is the origin of the term scamjet?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doing the maths never stopped Merkins handing cash out to plausible types.

      Americans sure would have changed the outcome of the Tintin episode "The Calculus Affair", Paperclip-style.

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Doing the maths never stopped Merkins handing cash out to plausible types.

        Maybe they saw the Biggles movie and thought it was a documentary...

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biggles_%28film%29

  8. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Trollface

    Serbia Strong!

    Wasn't it showman and neurotic inventor-cum-engineer Nikola Tesla who ripped a steel block apart at a New York demonstration using sound waves?

    Maybe one of his lost inventions are BACK ON THE TABLE!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Serbia Strong!

      I've read a lot of incredible anecdotes concerning the things that Tesla was supposed to have done, but then it proves impossible to actually track down any verification.

      But I remain suitable impressed by all the things the man actually did accomplish.

    2. Suricou Raven

      Re: Serbia Strong!

      The story is of a mechanical oscillator clamped to the building, not sound transmitted through air, and unintentionally. It's not a reliable source - it comes from a journalist prone to exaggeration who claims he heard it from Tesla himself.

      I imagine that the experiment may have happened, but the scale was exaggerated in the retelling - he probably just hit the resonant frequency of the building and made it shake hard enough to scare the residents. The story from Tesla claimed he was working on an oscillating steam-driven generator, which is certainly plausible - he did design something like that.

  9. Cameron Colley

    I think I "get" VC now.

    It's a legal pyramid scheme isn't it?

    Now it makes sense how these scum make their millions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I think I "get" VC now.

      No it's not like that at all.

      And these people are not "scum". They actually hand out money that pays salaries.

      Now, with the current suicidal economy "policy" cooked up by Keynesian dunderheadscourt economists leeching off politicians unwilling to tell their pampered populace that the music should have stopped some time ago, getting money is too cheap by far. As a consequence, kids are being burdened with unpaid bills and resources are squandered wholesale. Malinvestments like these, where no-one really looks at what is being financed, fall into that category.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I think I "get" VC now.

      It's a legal pyramid scheme isn't it?

      This gives me more the impression of a money laundering scheme (because I can't really see this work as sound strikes me as a rather inefficient energy transport medium in air). Buy something stupid with dodgy money, let it collapse and sell the assets - presto, clean money. I'd want to know what that money has been spent on - look for recoverable assets.

  10. David Pollard
    Pint

    Good analysis by 'Danny'

    The debunking in the linked article is a job well done. It's surprising that the real world considerations that make this invention worthless were in the public domain eighteen months ago.

    It's also surprising that Marc Andreessen - presumably he of the IgNobel Awards - is said to have been one of the early backers.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Audience at a film festival

    Exactly the right one able to question her on scientific matters...

    I guess I'll show my new high-tech product at a Tupperware or Mary Kay meeting. If I could show it at a Virginia's Secret show, I guess investors will give me money without questioning...

  12. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Meh

    One problem is..

    Management of a lot of companies, and people advising investors are people with what I would call "junk MBAs". Not that there aren't a lot of bright people with MBAs, but somehow people seem to think that this degree qualifies them to make decisions and deliver correct analyses in other fields, such as the sciences. (including IT)

  13. BurnT'offering

    Great idea

    Wireless transmission of power will be there perfect complement to leccie generated by cold fusion

  14. Chris G Silver badge

    ubeam's system is smart.

    As stated here; https://ubeam.com/technology/ but only insofat as the scientifically ignorant investors are concerned; a quick scan of the website shows so many contradictory statements and pseudoscientific blarb it is worthy of being lumped together with tap water to gasoline and free energy from magnets technology.

    Aside from uBeam the only other instance of sound producing a significant effect that resulted in work done was when my old Sargeant Major gave a command.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fulfilling Quotas

    Yes, we are all incredibly surprised that appointing CEOs by genitalia not by merit doesn't work.

    http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2015/10/27/meet-the-she-e-os-why-do-so-many-female-tech-ceos-turn-out-to-be-disappointments-or-frauds/

    1. BurnT'offering

      Re: Why do so many female tech CEOs turn out to be disappointments or frauds?

      "Why do so many tech CEOs turn out to be disappointments or frauds?"

      FTFY

      Another question:

      Why do so many Breitbart articles turn out to be sexist click-bait?

  16. Henry Minute

    Worzel Gummidge Technology

    Electrickery

    1. Linker3000

      Re: Worzel Gummidge Technology

      Catweazle holds the patent on electrickery:

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catweazle

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to get in on these scams

    1. Get a junk MBA and some fancy PR blurb

    2. Promise a brand new secret tech soon to be worth billions

    3. Put up a website with pseudo-scientific bullshit

    4. Get some free interns with STEM degrees desperate for work, and prepared to lie to keep it

    5. Ask the VC science-illiterate community for 50 million bucks

    6. Talk a load of shite promising a break thru soon

    7. Ask for even more money

    8. PROFIT

  18. Panicnow

    Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

    Yes, a microphone will harvest sound and a loud speaker will convert electrical energy to sound.. BUT for this to work uBeam would need to improve loudspeaker and and microphone technology by two orders of magnitude. Just being about to conver electrical energy to sound at 30% efficiency would be a big story!

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

      The good old 'Inverse Square Law' has to come into play here.

      Unless they have found a way round it?

      If they have then it it will be Nobel prizes for all involved.

      The Higgs Boson has nothing on this.

      1. calmeilles

        Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

        "The unspeakably omnipotent members of the Complector Council were bound by nothing else save the laws of physics, and were generally held to be putting considerable effort into getting round those."

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

        The inverse square law only applies to omnidirectional sources. Their website talks about forming directed beams.

        It's still a stupid idea though. At the frequencies they are talking about (60+KHz), sound decays very rapidly - bats run up to a bit over 100KHz for some species, but most call lower, exchanging precision of imagery for range. The beam-forming technology needed is doable but crazy-expensive, and the receivers would need to send a homing pulse so the transmitter could know where to point. And the losses would be highly impractical.

        But inverse square law is one of the few things that doesn't kill the possibility.

        1. KA1AXY

          Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

          Path loss, and beam spreading. However, it works GREAT underwater :-)

        2. Howard Long

          Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

          Inverse square law applies to all point sources, whether omni or directional, in a linear transmission medium.

          In near field, with very large radiators (ie, non-point sources in near field), such as very large phased arrays, it is possible to concentrate energy from a distance of the order of a few wavelengths, but it'll be a frikkin big array with hundreds if not thousands of point sources with appropriate separation.

          More of a problem is the non-linearity of air at the power needed to generate enough power to charge a cellphone, the inefficiency, the enormous wall sized arrays, the receiving sleeves, the cost of infrastructure, regulatory barriers, safety implications, innevitable litigation over fillings falling out etc.

          It's a complete load of impractical bollocks, and yet another wakeup call (in case they needed one) that the VC industry needs to wake up and stop mis-selling this sort of crap to uneducated investors due to sheer negligence, deliberate or otherwise, on the VCs' part.

          1. Suricou Raven

            Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

            "Inverse square law applies to all point sources, whether omni or directional, in a linear transmission medium."

            My laser pointer disagrees. There is no such thing as a point source - it's just a mathematical idealisation. You can point a beam of ultrasound just like you can point a laser. That's the basis for their claim. Like all the best bad science, it has just a grain of truth in it.

            1. maffski

              Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

              'beam of ultrasound'

              Is there such a thing? The air molecules that transmit energy at the receiver are not those imparted with energy at the transmitter. It's like trying to move something by cannoning a billion pool balls.

          2. Commswonk Silver badge

            Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

            It's a complete load of impractical bollocks, and yet another wakeup call (in case they needed one) that the VC industry needs to wake up and stop mis-selling this sort of crap to uneducated investors due to sheer negligence, deliberate or otherwise, on the VCs' part.

            You're right; the whole idea is utter crap, and merely serves to prove the old adage that Bullshit Baffles Brains.

            My laser pointer disagrees. There is no such thing as a point source - it's just a mathematical idealisation. You can point a beam of ultrasound just like you can point a laser. That's the basis for their claim. Like all the best bad science, it has just a grain of truth in it.

            Let us assume that someone, somehow, manages to produce a "point source" of ultrasound; there is still a world of difference between a "point source" (i.e. an isotropic radiator) and a coherent beam that does not diverge along its path, and it is that divergence that leads to the inverse aquare law. Now even if a coherent beam of ultrasound could be produced (which I currently doubt) then the "energy" transmitted by it would only be receiveable along, and directly in, the path of the beam, and not to the the side of it. That might be a bit tricky because the beam would be neither audible nor visible, so in reality it will be much easier, quicker and more reliable to find the nearest 13A socket* and plug a bloody charger in.

            Various epithets spring to mind; "Never give a sucker an even break"; A fool and his money are soon parted" will do as a start.

            Whatever will come next; large nappies for adults whose busy lives make visits to the toilet an impossible intrusion into their busyness ?**

            * UK and a few other countries only; other power outlets are available, or so I understand.

            ** Other reasons for their possible existence are outside the scope of this comment...

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Worlds best tranducer, Worlds best microphone

      To be fair, they wouldn't care about distortion or even reproduction of more than a single harmonic series.

      But even then, the concept makes radio-beamed power look incredibly efficient.

      And air-core transformers like science fiction!

  19. Emty

    Look at the non-functional requirements: efficiency and safety

    YouTube has uBeam demo from 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoHxyweJcZI

    It shows power transfer, but measured in Volts, not Watts. A phone is connected but "currently not charging". The claim "we have 8 Volt and that is enough because you only need 5 Volt" could be misleading if there is no load attached to the receiver (you need at least 2.5 Watt @ 5 Volt).

    The wireless power industry has a history of exciting demos that don't lead to commercial products. The article https://www.wirelesspowerconsortium.com/blog/246/dreaming-of-power-through-the-air has more examples that show how hard it is to transmit power safely and efficiently.

    1. Tannin

      Re: Look at the non-functional requirements: efficiency and safety

      Oh dear. It "shows power transfer" measured in volts. Nuff said.

      I am, by the way, 87 kilograms tall.

  20. jake Silver badge

    Dumbasses are dumbasses ...

    ... but my thermos still works. And I invest accordingly ;-)

  21. Chris Mr

    Air is elastic

    When you pump up a bicycle tyre you can feel the air being squashed. Same thing happens in an air compressor.

    So if you transmit modulated air without any restraint, what stops it squashing out of the way when you try to collect it - there is no restraint (like the bicycle pump or air compressor examples) so the best you can do is get an inefficient system.

    Just like wind turbines, you never stand behind a wind turbine and find the wind stops!

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Air is elastic

      If the wind stopped, the air would pile up at the turbine. You need to bring air out at the same rate it goes in mass-wise, but at lower speed, which means higher density. So part of the incoming kinetic energy has to go into compressing the air, which imposes a theoretical maximum efficiency. The Betz limit, or about 60%. Practical turbines tend to be around 50% at most, because achieving that last few percent is disproportionately expensive.

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