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End of an Era - Thoughts on uBeam Founder Stepping Down as CEO

Earlier today news was broken by Axios that uBeam founder Meredith Perry had "stepped down" as CEO to spend more time with her fa...

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

More uBeam at CES 2019 - MacVoicesTV Interview

There was a brief video published today interviewing the uBeam Director of Product Marketing and Management at the floor show in CES (not the private suite), by MacVoicesTV. What you see is quite limited, a receiver only, no transmitter (except off camera, and on the screen behind), but interesting nonetheless.

The Interviewer
There are a few things that stand out in this video, and I'll start with the interviewer. Now I know this is not meant to be an in-depth technical expose, I'm eternally frustrated at the terrible coverage tech gets, but this was little more than allowing uBeam to read out their marketing material unchallenged. What is the point of the interviewer if they don't add anything to the mix? He does say "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask about safety" and then lets them go wild with, IMO, very suspect safety statements (more on that later). After that, nothing that his job actually entails such as asking about power transmitted, delivered, cost, efficiency, product release date, regulatory approval - anything of practical interest. He was basically pointless, and should have just handed the mike to the PR guy and cut the pretense he was doing anything at all.

The Demo
Now the demo itself did yield some interesting info. In the background the poster claims "Useable Power, Meters (away?)", so definitively claiming >1 meter here. The receiver shown lit up - an LED - so a whole few mW of power has been received. Distance from the transmitter is not shown, but likely a meter or so. So much for phone charging if that's all they can do, and you have to think that if they could do more, they absolutely would be showing that.

For tracking, the target seems to need to be within a box of reflective tape, that is 1cm or so wide. That places quite a requirement on the border of the target, on top of the multiple centimeter sized cylinders for reception. How will this targeting work if some of the square is obscured? Might be a problem for a handheld device if the user isn't allowed to hold it. Seems a pretty 'ghetto' marking method for consumer electronics, that is not IMO going to fly in any real product. The transmitter following the receiver was shown to have a short lag each time it moved - is the beam still on and insonifying something else during that time, or switched off? 

Last question on tracking - is there any feedback so the transmitter knows how much power to send, or is it just full on, all the time? If there is, what's the communication method?

While the transmitter isn't shown in the video, in the background a video seems to indicate they are using transmitters like the ones shown last year. Shown in the upper picture next to an iPad, and the lower one marked as "March 2018".

That looks to be about 16 by 16 Murata style devices, each around 1cm in diameter, so 256 elements total and at 145dB (290W/m^2, intensity claimed by uBeam in the past), that would mean around 7.5 Watts acoustic out absolute maximum. If all of that were lighting a, generously say, 100 mW LED then that would mean around 1.4% acoustic to electrical conversion, though when you account for efficiency in the transmitter would drop below 1%. 

They go on to say that they are so awesome for Industrial Internet of Things, low power sensors etc, that's where they are focusing and save everyone the frustration of changing batteries - for the addition of white tape and large receivers around all the sensors, a power bill going up 100x, and only one lunchbox sized transmitter per few sensors. Given that Powercast already sell a wireless power system that will work at up to 80ft, with regulatory approval, can charge at up to the mW level, and does not need large receivers or reflective tape, I'm not quite sure what the value proposition here is.

A 'more robust' version of the demo was being given in their suite at the Venetian, so apparently this demo was not robust. They'd power cameras and sensors, but no mention of phones, which indicates to me that they can't reliably get 500mW to 1W at a phone sized receiver, as generally that's the minimum needed to even start charging a phone.

This bit was the part that really got me wound up. People are free to do what they want with their own money but safety is where you don't get to screw around. Allow me to rebutt the argument made here that this system is perfectly safe:

All acoustic energy bounces off the skin This is true, you get around 99.9% reflection from bare skin into the air - however - once there is hair on that skin, then acoustic losses go up, and that acoustic energy is converted to heat. Put enough energy there, and it can heat up a lot. Some papers report that mice and rabbits can die from exposure to sound at 145dB and up. From "Effects of Ultrasonic Noise on the Human Body—A Bibliographic Review" 

"According to Allen, Rudnik and Frings, a mouse dies from overheating after 10 s to 3 min of exposure to a signal of 20 kHz and level of 160 dB [10]. According to Danner, a lethal level for signals of 18–20 kHz for an unshaven mouse were 144 dB and for a shaven mouse 155 dB [21]. Acton obtained similar results and extended studies to larger animals such as guinea pigs and rabbits [22]."

Now at 145dB temp rises can be small, but cumulative, and consumer devices have to cover edge cases like babies, drunks, ill people who can't move, pets locked in cages etc. When you sell millions of devices to consumers, who do things they shouldn't, your system has to be foolproof.

I'm wondering, if it is pointed at the ear canal, does it work differently in there, where there is a very sound sensitive part? Any sub-harmonic generation possibilities, where a lower frequency that what is transmitted is heard? (For example, a subharmonics of 40 kHz are 20 and 10 kHz, both in hearing range of some to pretty much everyone). I'm sure that was studied too.

We've had 3rd parties evaluate our system over 18 months and it's completely safe including for pets There is a lack of evidence in the literature that ultrasound in the environment at these amplitudes is safe, and if they have it, this would be a landmark paper that would be massively valuable around the world. I'm sure there was a scientifically controlled experiment, repeated multiple times for statistical significance, followed over years, and if people were involved (which to study human hearing or skin response there would have to be) there will be an ethics review somewhere too? 

Please write a paper, for peer review, and all critics will be silenced. So come on uBeam, release the study - it doesn't have to reveal anything about your system, or technology, just the effect of sound. There's no commercial reason to keep it hidden, no competitors that will steal a march on you with it. All it can do is benefit you - so release it. Or is it not quite that good?

Tim Leighton from University of Southampton did the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of ultrasound in the air I know of. You can read it here, and it is not at all as confident regarding safety effects, especially long term.

The beam is controlled and directed If the wavelength of sound is smaller than the pitch between the transmitting elements, there will be what are known as 'grating lobes' where energy is sent in directions in addition to the desired beam. Given the spacing seems to be around 1cm, and at uBeam stated frequencies the wavelength is smaller than this, there will almost certainly be grating lobes. If so, how many people walking past that demo were getting insonified? That is pretty appalling to me - that members of the public, without their knowledge, could be subjected to unknown sound levels that may or may not have regulatory approval. Which brings me to the next part of safety.

Regulatory. OSHA used to have a limit of 145 dB for sound above 40kHz in air (US only), however a look at the rules today appears to show that it's a flat 115 dB, 1000x less power. Other countries are all in the 110 to 115 dB range. The FDA requires approval for all radiation emitting products, while UL 61010-1, Section 12.5.2 "Protection against... ultrasonic pressure" says "the ultrasonic pressure shall not exceed 110 dB above the reference pressure value of 20 microPa for frequencies between 20 kHz and 100 kHz"

So it seems that OSHA, the FDA, and UL all require much more stringent safety than simply blasting 145 dB around. This will be answered in that 3rd party set of tests, right? Again, no problem releasing this as there was a claim in the Oct 2017 fundraising deck that uBeam was "legally approved by FCC/FDA".

When it comes to regulatory and safety the burden is not on the regulator to prove it is dangerous, it is up to the proposer to prove that it is safe.

Engineering Ethical Considerations
Being an engineer isn't just about doing calculations and building things. There's a responsibility to the public and the world at large on what, and how, we work. The IEEE is the world's largest engineering professional body, and have a set of ethical rules, they can be found here, and the first one among them is:

"to hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public, to strive to comply with ethical design and sustainable development practices, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment"

So sell anything you like, fools and their money are soon to be parted, but prove that it is safe and don't ever put the health and welfare of people at risk. If you do, don't call yourself an engineer.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

uBeam's CES 2019

uBeam started 2019 by giving some private demonstrations of their wireless power transfer system at CES, which according to their PR material "using proprietary transmitters and receivers, uBeam is able to deliver the necessary power to charge a range of devices from portable electronics to IoT sensors at various distances" which manages to set no expectations or give any real indication of what it can do, like any good PR should (unless it truly can do something useful!).

The New CEO
I had expected it to be fairly bland and that there be nothing to report on, however there were a couple of things worth reporting on. First up, they announced that there is a new CEO, replacing the CFO/HR Director that had been a stand-in since Perry's departure in September (or maybe July). From the announcement:

uBeam Inc., the pioneer of ultrasonic power-at-a-distance wireless charging, announced today the appointment of Simon McElrea as Chief Executive Officer. “I am delighted to lead uBeam and its many talented employees at this pivotal time in the wireless charging industry,” stated McElrea. “The proliferation of IoT networks that require safe, reliable, Always-On connectivity and power, from the Smart Home to the much larger commercial, industrial, agricultural and renewable energy markets, is right in our sweet-spot.”

“Over the past 18 months, our team of 30 engineers has been singularly focused on the miniaturization of the technology, to enable us in 2019 to provide reference design kits to our manufacturing partners and customers so that they can integrate it into their diverse range of products,” said McElrea. “By developing the complete turn-key solution, from industry-leading transducers, to custom ASICs, control electronics, hardware and software, we have created an end-to-end solution, as well as the associated IP, which currently totals over 100 patents and applications. We are excited to be able to showcase this work at CES during the coming week.”

So first of all, they've finally got someone in the CEO role who can put together a sane, sensible, competent sounding statement. Now the accuracy of some of these points is questionable - the company has been going since 2011, but seriously funded now for over 4 years, not 18 months. In fact, 18 months ago in the USA Today article, member of their Technical Advisory board, Matt O'Donnell, was saying:

“When Meredith called me in 2015, I was curious and skeptical as hell, because you just hadn’t seen efficient airborne transducers, but holy moly, the leaps they’ve made in the past 18 months have been impressive.”

It's that magical 18 months again - nicely chosen in the past to be just out of firm memory, and for the future far enough away everyone has forgotten by the time you get there.

Company pictures and LinkedIn do not seem to support 30 engineers, more like the low 20's and not all of them will be engineers. 100 patents and applications seems high too, unless a very large number have been submitted in the last year and are still not visible to the public, or they're double counting international applications. Press - next time you speak to the CEO, maybe ask for the patent list and an actual headcount?

And reference design kits in the next 12 months? Those will be interesting to see.

So what's the new CEO's background? He's actually a well qualified person for the role and IMO finally sees someone competent in the big chair at uBeam.

McElrea joins uBeam having served as CEO of Semblant Ltd. since 2015, a UK and Silicon Valley based B2B nanotechnology company which was acquired in Q4 2018 by HZO, a global leader in electronic material technologies. Prior to Semblant, McElrea was Vice President of IP, Licensing and Marketing at Energous Corporation, a San Jose based wireless-charging company that completed its IPO in 2014 and was awarded “Best of CES” in 2015. McElrea was responsible for the marketing, patenting and licensing strategy, as well as initiating FCC engagement and the formation of the “Uncoupled” wireless power standards committee within the AirFuel Alliance.

I just about fell off my chair laughing when I read that - long time readers of my blog will know I've been covering Energous extensively, as another at-distance wireless power company that many describe as a straight up scam. I started covering them back in 2016 in-part because I could go into details about the RF power delivery method Energous use, pointing out the basics of physics that limit them, many or all of which also applied to uBeam, without risking breaking my NDA with uBeam. I've said before I think the genius of Energous has been in repeatedly raising money from markets despite IMO having little to nothing, not in any of their technical work, and much of that came from IP, licensing, and marketing.

If uBeam are in the position that they have as little technical capability as Energous to charge a phone safely, then expect them to follow the Energous path for PR, product announcements for 18 months out that never happen, mysterious deals with Tier One vendors that can't be divulged, and similar. They've already stepped back from the multi-meter, multi-watt, multi-device claims and are covering "IoT" only now - what next? While uBeam can't tap the IPO market the way Energous smartly did early on, there are still fools out there who might think this is a worthwhile purchase. Will we see uBeam sold "for an undisclosed amount" in the next year? I expect that will be a high priority for the new CEO - put a pretty bow on uBeam and get it sold. Or should I say lipstick on a pig?

The Demo
That was going to be the full extent of this post, until earlier today the EEVBlog posted a very interesting picture of uBeam's CES 2019 demo kit.

Now I know as much as you do about this, but if this is the whole demo, it's failing to meet even the low bar I had set for them. If this is it, what you see in that photograph is the result of nearly $40m of investment to date, and around 5 years of work. The three boards in the box with the circular components in grids are the transmitter or receiver transducer boards, and it looks very much like they are still using standard Murata transducers - basically the devices that work as car parking sensors in most vehicles. Why are some white and some black, I'm not sure, they may be the send and receive versions that Murata have, or simply someone has removed the thin grill from the front face on some. The two rectangular boards seem to be about 14 by 8 cm in size, so roughly the same size as an iPhone X. 

Dave Jones on EEV Blog points out in the bottom left is a rather unsafe looking power supply, maybe around 100W or so, with the energy harvesting boards in the bottom right that might get mW out. (Update: The bottom right board is a "Burst Circuit PCB" and you can order it from here (link now inactive). Thanks EEVBlog.) If that's the case, it would point to efficiency being in the 1% or less range.  The white frame in the top right may be part of a vision tracking system now shown to be a receiver to light an LED, he notes the white squares are reflective material used to locate and track the board for power delivery, and the top left board looks to be an Intel MAX10 FPGA which can do beamforming calculations (when each element has to be driven to steer in a particular direction). As far as I can see, there are no custom parts in that box, most of it is Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS). Maybe there's a large transmitter somewhere, like we've seen before, at 45 by 45cm or 60 by 60cm, but even with that, I'm really not wowed by it.

Interestingly, in the bottom right, there are Murata-like transducers that are not Muratas. I wonder if those are actually in-house built devices. Zooming in, they look to be an active cantilever or prestressed beam (a uni/bimorph) with a circular cone on the front, which if you stripped the can off a Murata, is roughly what you'd see inside (but a disk instead of a large cantilever). I was even tempted to say that's what they were, but a few differences, and that they're in a sealed container marked "Made in China", make me think these are the actual uBeam devices. If this is the case, then uBeam's proprietary transducers are essentially a variation on what Murata have been selling for over a decade, and in my opinion unlikely to have significantly different performance characteristics, but at a higher price point. The active area is shockingly low on this array, I'd be surprised if 50% of the surface was active. More worryingly, both the Muratas and this 'custom' array have a large center-to-center pitch, more than a wavelength at the frequencies uBeam have publicly claimed, which would lead to what are called 'grating lobes' in any transmitted power - those are beams in addition to the ones you actually want, sending power out in additional directions. Great for safety...

Interestingly, during the last fundraising for uBeam over a year ago, their pitch deck became public, and some of it was shown on the EEV Blog.

This slide makes it clear that uBeam, at the time of their pitch in late 2017, were claiming to have transducers that were smaller, thinner, more powerful, and much cheaper than the "market transducer". Except a year later they're doing a demo with a "market transducer". That's pretty embarrassing for what they themselves describe as "uBeam's most critical component".

And how does this match with charging "Internet of Things" electronics? Does each need a board that's 14 by 8cm? Or do they each get a Murata sized can transducer that essentially takes up a 1 cm cube, and receives 1/100th of power of those boards?

What of the potential partners and customers from that pitch?

Were any of those multi-billion dollar companies there to say that yes, indeed they would be partnering with uBeam? Or a year later are each and every one of them unconvinced?

And what of their claims, back in Oct 2017, that they could charge a phone at 1 meter at up to a Watt, already approved by the FCC and FDA, with no safety or interference risks, and a small receiver?

So in summary, uBeam showed (at least from this picture) nothing new, and in fact looks to be steps back from what was claimed already complete in 2017 during fundraising, but now have a competent CEO that's been at the heart of a similar company who raised hundreds of millions on not much more than uBeam appear to have, and likely has a big financial incentive to get it sold. 2019 might be more interesting than I thought.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

uBeam's 2018

So, I told someone I would do a summary of uBeam's 2018, and I've been regretting it all Christmas vacation, as I think there's about 3 people in the world that care anymore. Since I promised, I'm doing it, though it's going to be short. So, in 2018 uBeam:

So, yes, going awesome for them. As far as I can tell from LinkedIn, despite that raise they hired a grand total of 3 technicians in 2018, who must be a bit overworked since they lost, and haven't replaced, the CTO, COO, and CEO. The company hires do not suggest a growing company on the verge of releasing a product...

Looking forward to seeing what they do at CES, should be fun. I have a feeling it will be a little bit different than what they were claiming in their fundraising in late 2017. :)

Friday, December 28, 2018

Energous FCC Approval Found: It's a renamed approval from April 18

My last few posts have asked where the FCC approval for the recently announced product was, as it wasn't showing up on the FCC search site. While the FCC site doesn't have it, it can be found at a different site and is ID VAW-NF910. It is indeed by SK Telesys, was granted on Dec 27th, and is for wireless charging under FCC Part 18. Reading further though, it's clear this is not a new product, but rather simply a renaming of an earlier near field charger, the 2ADNG-NF230.

Since I've written a lot this week, I'll summarize here:
  • This transmitter is a rebadged 2ADNG-NF230 that Energous mad a fanfare about in April 18
  • If it's been approved since April and is awesome, why can't I buy it yet?
  • There is no receiver that works with it yet approved (known of), so no product sale possible
  • If so, no PSAP/hearing aid approval could then be claimed
  • For safety shouldn't be within 10 centimeters of a person when operating
  • Maximum output is 1 Watt, so likely under 100 mW charging max
  • Slower, less safe, less versatile than a Qi charging case for earbuds
  • Share price continues to fall from this brief spike

So back to the detail:

I did a full post on this 'product' back in April and I was as unimpressed then as I am now, I titled it "Energous FCC Approval Shows Weakness of WattUp Technology". Basically, slower than Qi, with further safety restrictions and less compatibility. There are already Qi based charging cases for earpieces, why is this any better? Or should I instead ask, why is this not worse?

The user manual for the 2ADNG-NF230 is here, and the FCC Approval from April 9th 2018 can be found here. Below are pictures of the device and antenna from those documents.

An interesting statement from this documentation:

The NF-230 Charger requires all persons to be at least 10 cm afar from the charger at all times except when placing or removing the device to be charged. 

Don't sleep too close to it!

With one antenna active at a time, it's 29dBm output so just under 1 W transmitted. They maintain the SAR limit (1.6W/kg) at around 0.86W/kg, so judging by the previous Part 18 approved device which was similar output after the safety cutoff zone (though 10W transmitted), we can probably expect no more than 200 mW of received power, and after conversion from RF to DC down to around 100 mW at most

Interestingly, if SK Telesys and Delight are simply rebadging existing Energous applications, there is no current FCC Approval for a receiver for this, so the transmitter can send, but there's nothing to take the power. The only parts in the same frequency range approved are the larger sized transmitter (2ADNG-MS300), and a phone sized receiver (2ADNG-MS300A), and are not appropriate for this.

I would give some comment on their DA2223 chips and what they might be able to do in a receiver, but unlike regular electronics, the vendor provides no data sheet, only marketing level material. Without receiver approval, there's no product here!

And doesn't this mean that a statement like "FCC approval of the Delight PSAP hearing device" in the press release is a bit of an exaggeration when it's a charger that's approved, not the PSAP? There really needs to be another approval somewhere we've not seen.

Well done Energous, great marketing hype given there's absolutely nothing new at all. What did that do for your share price?

Oh, a bump and back down 40% from there. I hope the insiders managed to sell at that high - we'll see in a few days if they do.

(Repeating the seemingly obligatory statement - I have no financial position, short or long, in Energous or any related company. Nor have I ever had any such positions.)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Energous Product Announcement: Where's the Approval?

Earlier today Energous put out a press release about an apparent FCC approval for an anticipated personal sound amplification product (PSAP) that may be on the market in as little as three months. Despite his being a re-announcement of an already delayed product, and contact only, it send the WATT stock shooting up from under $4.80 to nearly $9.50 before settling back down closer to $7.00 at close, a healthy ~50% gain. Interestingly, it's basically a year to the day when they announced the FCC Part 18 approval for their mid-range wireless charger, that still is not announced as for sale, which got it a big price spike before a long slow decline. As this was 3am pacific time, my post was fairly cursory, and since then I've had some discussions with others who follow Energous and a few interesting points have come up.

As noted earlier, no FCC approval could be found for such a device for Energous or the manufacturers SK Telesys or Delight. Now I'd expect there to be something, somewhere - Energous push things pretty far IMO in how they exaggerate, but they really avoid doing anything blatantly illegal. Given this, I'm interested to know what that FCC approval is, if the company can provide any more details on that - the type of approval, and approval number, anything.

Interestingly, this is a personal sound amplification product PSAP - not a hearing aid. A hearing aid requires FDA approval, a PSAP does not. From the FDA:

PSAPs are intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are intended to accentuate sounds in specific listening environments, rather than for everyday use in multiple listening situations. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment or to address listening situations that are typically associated with and indicative of hearing loss. 

Products making these (hearing aid) or similar claims should not be considered PSAPs. In addition, products that are sold as an “over the counter” alternative or substitute for a hearing aid should not be considered PSAPs. Because PSAPs are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or mitigate disease and do not alter the structure or function of the body, they are not devices as defined in the FD&C Act.

The link also has a very clear definition of hearing aids, and the regulatory pathway expected of them.

So a very clear and specific difference between a hearing aid, and a PSAP, and while the press release starts by talking about a PSAP, it then goes on to say:

Like hearing aids, PSAPs are used by the hearing impaired to assist with hearing loss, but they are available without a prescription and tend to be lower in cost than hearing aids.

So they are making claims that these devices are to be used for mitigating hearing loss, which makes them hearing aids, not PSAPs, and subject to FDA approval. Now confusion is often useful when you want people to draw incorrect conclusions from statements, but when you get into a regulatory environment like the FDA, you have to be careful and precise. So which is it Energous?

It's also very hard to find out anything from either of the partner companies on the product itself. SK Telesys isn't a hearing aid company and there's a single Energous related press release that I can find on their page (and nothing else, for any product, for a company that's 21 years old...). Delight have a website with more information, but not much more. They clearly advertise as a hearing aid (not a PSAP), no mention of FCC or FDA approval (it has Bluetooth, FCC approval is mandatory, it's a hearing aid, so FDA approval mandatory), and it's dated from the original June 2018 announcement.

Now there's even a PDF for download, however you enter an email, click send now and then see this:
And when you click the only button you have - nothing. So a 6 month old webpage, with minimal information, that contradicts some of Energous' statements, and that I can't find necessary FDA or FCC approvals for. No ordering page, no description of commercial outlets to purchase from, no release date.

Not much more to say, with so little to go on, the coming weeks will tell. The roller-coaster of Energous continues. Now to keep an eye on when insiders sell and see if they take advantage of this spike.

(Repeating the seemingly obligatory statement - I have no financial position, short or long, in Energous or any related company. Nor have I ever had any such positions.)

Energous: Here we go again with another 'product' announcement

Only a few days ago I thought I'd done my last post on Energous for 2018, but it was not to be. Not to be outdone by uBeam, a few minutes ago Energous sent out a press release about the first new amazing life changing FCC approved WattUp consumer product, the SK Telesys hearing aid  personal sound amplification product (PSAP).

New wirelessly-charged personal sound amplification products from Energous customer, Delight, are certified to sell in the United States

“FCC approval of the Delight PSAP hearing device is a very significant and positive announcement for Energous in that it represents the first WattUp-enabled consumer product moving into full commercial production, with anticipated availability in Q1,” said Stephen R. Rizzone, president and CEO of Energous 

Incredible. FCC certified to sell. With anticipated available in no more than 3 months. Wow, couldn't be more certain than something that's 'anticipated'. And it was only at the beginning of August that the same CEO Rizzone was telling us that this hearing aid product personal sound amplification product would be available in... 90 days. (And that's forgetting the Myant chargable undies announced as a product about a year ago and that seem to have been... forgotten). I used to say "Time to Carrot" for Energous products was a near constant 18 months, but that's the long range wireless charger, for the contact based charger, it's apparently 3 months. 

So yes, even if this product ever becomes available, it will be the in-contact WattUp version, not the at-distance, and charges at a rather low rate (a few hundred mW most likely, claims up to 1 W but we'll see). I know it's easy to get mixed up between that and the at-distance wireless WattUp products that charge even slower and aren't actually available, but then that's kind of the point of creating a single marketing name for multiple very different products. Almost as if the company wanted to bamboozle and confuse you into thinking they had something other than what they do.

So why use this instead of Qi, the industry standard, that charges at a higher rate, is compatible with all your existing wireless charging devices, and is more efficient? Not sure, about the only thing they might be able to claim in "hearing aids don't need to be in a case" which is awesome, especially when they roll off the nightstand and get lost.

The FCC approval itself is also interesting. Seeing there's a government shutdown the FCC can't have authorized it in the last few days (update: turns out the FCC is funded through Jan 3, so still possible), and a search of the FCC system shows no recent licence grants for Energous, Delight, or SK Telesys (most recent authorization, 2011). I'll dig through the FCC site tomorrow to see if there's something in another section, but sounds odd to me. Almost as if Energous were desperate for some form of publicity and made up the best they could from the turds they had lying around.

So, this was an amazing announcement today. For a product that was first announced 5 months ago, was supposed to be out 2 months ago, might be available in the next 3 months, is contact only charging, and is slower than the incumbent mass adopted charging technology, Qi. Cue the WATT fanboys to go nuts...

Update: WATT did indeed spike to around $9.50 before dipping and settling around 70% up at $7.95. Let's see if there is another sudden rise and long slow decline situation here.

(Repeating the seemingly obligatory statement - I have no financial position, short or long, in Energous or any related company. Nor have I ever had any such positions.)

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Energous in 2018: The Sudden Rise and the Long, Slow, Decline

With the end of the year looming, and a few days off on my hands, it's time for a "year in review" of my favorite companies like Theranos and uBeam, but let's start with Energous. To place where the company is right now, let's look at the stock price over the last year.

Energous share price over the last year
Energous share price from March 2014 (IPO) to date

It wasn't so long ago that Energous were on top of the world, and 2018 was going to be its year of proving the doubters wrong, but what a difference a year has made. A year ago tomorrow WATT closed at around $8.83 per share and then there was a sudden leap to $33.50 on Dec 28th (closing at $31.57), following announcement of FCC Part 18 approval of their 'mid range' wireless charging, which the media reported as almost a fait accomplis for the company. I covered this in multiple posts, and it was clear to me that this was an approval for a product that could and never would be released - impractical, no true application, ridiculously low charging rates, and in my opinion unsafe. Subsequent lack of announcements on this appear to have proven me right. 

Energous even got a congratulatory tweet from FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, despite his public office not being supposed to promote any company or product. The public and institutions bought and bought, at just the same time the insiders and large holders sold, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. As you can see that was the peak and after a few bumps it was a long, slow decline for the company to its lowest price ever, of $4.80 per share (Now down over 85% from peak, it was initially offered at $6.00, was $9.50 on launch day, and had a previous all-time low of $4.91 in Jan 2016). 

At the end of October I was noting a $1.50 to $2.00 decline per month, and near 2 months later here we are $3.00 lower, so $1.50 a month continues. This long slow and steady decline seems to be continuing, and if anything seems remarkably steady. Any chance there's a co-ordinated selloff to not spook the rubes?

At this rate the stock will be at zero by the end of March 2019, which is an interesting date because given their ~$12.5m a quarter burn rate and near zero revenues they are essentially out of cash to operate by then. Without a raise or cash injection, Energous have three months left to live. While Energous have filed with the SEC to sell up to $75m of stock, that's now 60% of the market cap. With a continuously declining stock price and no products, who would buy? 

What are their options? Well I have been fully expecting some form of 'goosing' the stock price with a vapourware product launch or similar for CES (essentially, IMO, what they did at the beginning of 2018 following the FCC announcement), but that seems to no longer be an option for them. Take their announcement of the DA2223 chip, for example. It fizzled out with barely a ripple in the stock price. That was announced at the end of November, and is supposedly the receiver chip that will enable Energous on hearing aids and the other markets that will make them billions. Some are even back to saying this is what will get Apple on board, despite them literally putting components of another utterly incompatible wireless technology in their products and announcing that different method as the future (sneaky Apple, misdirecting us like that). These chips have no market availability, no price, no data sheet that any engineer would want - simply some marketing and 'product briefs'. To release it would show there is not a transmitter you can buy to work with it, and if there was you would see how awful the performance is. IMO it's vapourware and Energous will never want their products out in the wild for actual testing, it would show them for the farce they are.

A reader points out to me - it doesn't look like the FCC granted Energous the experimental license to demo their new toys yet, and then the government went on shutdown (turns out the FCC have funds to stay open until Jan 3). They might not get it before CES and have to rely on showing the same things as last year. This might work in their favour, no limited visibility of their next-gen useless crap!

That reader also reminded me there are other ways they attempt to boost the stock such as with 'accidentally' misleading deals and press releases. Earlier this year they announce a deal with IDT International. Most engineers did a double-take on that, as IDT Inc is a large $6bn market cap company that's pretty respected, but closer inspection revealed it's IDT International, a smaller Hong Kong electronics company with around 3% of the market cap of IDT Inc. In one of my earliest blog postings I commented on how companies, and Energous specifically, can use vague and misleading wording in announcements to allow readers to make leaps toward what they think the company said, while remaining perfectly legal and technically accurate. Seems they are still at it.

Other options? Cash injection from Dialog, who recently got a bit of a windfall from Apple? Seems like it would be a tough sell to its shareholders for a public company, but I've seen dumber things happen. They might market it as investing in a seriously undervalued company, and that there's huge upside. Given the management invested prior, it might be they have to keep going rather than admit they bought a lemon before and their judgement was poor. It wouldn't be the first time.

Last option I can think of is that the company still goes ahead with a stock sale under poor terms and raises just enough for a last hurrah for the executive team and bonuses all round. This has been a roller coaster of surprises with this company as to how long they can keep it going, so who knows.

As to what else happened in 2018 for Energous, it was pretty much a continuation of what has gone on before. Poor revenue at earnings calls, repeatedly delayed long range charging systems (time to carrot - a near constant 18 months), quiet downgrading of performance specs, multiple announced products then either cancellation or lack of availability, but really the highlights came with Aristides Capital presentation on Energous, and the earnings call in August where someone finally called bullshit on the CEO. If you haven't already, watch the Aristides Capital video and listen to the Q&A on the August earnings call.

So we're really in a wait and see what happens position. I've said before that I think Energous are geniuses, not in the technology sense but in how to extract millions of dollars, seemingly perfectly legally, while producing nothing that was ever promised. Most startups have to actually get bought to make money but all you seem to need is an early IPO, some marketing hype, and hopeful but gullible investors. They may have a new business model here and as unique as their ascent has been, I fully expect their decline and end to surprise us even more.

(Repeating the seemingly obligatory statement - I have no financial position, short or long, in Energous or any related company. Nor have I ever had any such positions.)

Edit: Someone on Stocktwits linked this post so I got a ton of hits from there. Apparently I'm a bitter long who lost money and just bashing. And before Christmas too, what a Scrooge. But not one rebuttal or serious argument regarding what I've said from them. Thank you to those few on there who point out that I'm sticking with the facts and that it's not financially motivated.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Dreaded SSSS

Just an anecdote about security, or lack of it, on my recent transatlantic flight - no tech commentary this post.

Those of you who pay attention to air travel security issues may have heard of 'SSSS' which is an acronym for Secondary Security Screening Selection - basically a higher level of security screening. On my recent return flight from London to Seattle, I was 'lucky' enough to get this on my boarding pass - it's literally marked SSSS as you can see above. Apparently it's when you do something suspicious such as buy a one-way ticket or pay in cash for your flight, neither of which applied here. There's also been complaints it's racially/ethnically biased, however I'm as white as you get, and also have gone through the additional checks to get Global Entry and Nexus, so it's likely just random in my case (we'll see next time I fly).

So what did this mean for the flight? Well there was absolutely no difference at the regular security checkpoint at Heathrow, but I went to the gate a few minutes earlier than normal and spoke to the security people there. They thanked me for coming a few minutes early rather than waiting for boarding, and took me to a small area behind the check-in desk. After checking my passport, the agent had me take all electronics out of my carry-on (2 phones, a laptop, a USB hard drive). They checked one of the phones turned on, then swabbed down the electronics and all compartments of my carry-on, before putting it in the machines for explosives residue test. After that came up clear, they stamped my boarding pass, and told me to make sure I handed it to a gate agent at boarding rather than try to use the automated gates they have at Heathrow. I packed up, it had taken 3 or 4 minutes, and they were very polite and professional. At boarding, I handed my stamped pass to a gate agent who also thanked me for not trying to go through the automated gates, and it took a few extra seconds to check me through manually, and after that boarding was normal.

Where it got annoying was at my connection in the US, which was at Chicago O'Hare. As I had to change terminals to a domestic flight, I had to go through security again, and unlike normal, I now didn't have TSA-Pre on my boarding pass, which is the faster and less invasive security line - I tried to reprint my boarding pass in case it would be added when in the US, but no such luck, and I had to join the regular line. Wow, I had forgotten how bad that is. Long, slow, and full of people who don't travel enough to know what to do, along with everything having to come out the bag, and shoes and belts off. Recipe for disaster. I had 90 minutes to make my flight, and I got out of security at about the time boarding was supposed to close. 

I made it to the gate just as regular boarding ended and they were about to call standby, so pretty close to losing my seat. And here was where the most ridiculous thing happened. The guy in front of me tried to board, and his boarding pass kept getting rejected. After a minute of trying the gate agent looked at it and said "Sir, this is a boarding pass for yesterday's flight", and the passenger looked at him with a straight face and just said "I missed that one so I want to take this one", and credit to the gate agent he just said "That's not how it works Sir" and led him over to the main checking desk. After that, I boarded normally and no hassle.

So, overall it really was not a major setback or exceptionally invasive, just frustrating I didn't get to use TSAPre, but after all that security let a man with a day old boarding pass through security all the way to the gate. Yay. I feel so much safer...

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Awards Lists: Media Shows How Valuable They Are

You've likely seen the various awards that go around being quoted by entrepreneurs like "Forbes 30 under 30" or similar and thought "wow, that person must be amazing to have been given such a sought after and presitgious award, they don't just get handed out to anyone...". Well, I'm here to burst your bubble, and let you know that such lists are what are known as "clickbait" and are designed to be a quick and easy to write story, with zero controversy, and multiple page views with the associated ad revenue. Much more $/hr efficient than actual real investigative and careful journalism. Case in point, here's Influence Digest's "21 LA Based Entrepreneurs With Incredible Personal Brands" with, you guessed it, Meredith Perry, former CEO of uBeam, being an honored recipient.

"Meredith Perry is the inventor of Ubeam- a technology that uses ultrasound transmit power over the air to charge devices wirelessly. The tech influencer has been included in Fortunes “30 under 30”, Forbes, “40 under 40”, and has been recognized as one of Fast Company’s, “Most Creative People”. Meredith’s personal branding exploded after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and serving as an ambassador for NASA.

Perry invests in technologies that drive the future. It is her tech-savvy skills that earned her the respect of many young millennials."

So at least 50% of the credentials for having such a hot brand include being on other similar lists. Famous for being famous, the Kim Kardashian of the LA Tech Startup Scene, but hey that's branding. This article was so well researched that they don't know that it's uBeam not Ubeam, that Perry didn't invest in anything, that "millenials" by definition restricts the age group to younger adults, but most importantly that a few months prior she'd "stepped down" from her role as CEO of the company she founded, which has produced no products or open demos despite near $40m in investment, and thought by some such as myself to have been "asked to leave" her role as CEO following poor performance. Well done Influence Digest, you've shown exactly how much value such an award has.

Now, if you've looked through some of the other awardees, you'll notice there is the likes of Mark Suster, a reasonable awardee given his prominence in the LA startup scene. As the article notes "The influencer manages an amazing Medium-hosted blog. His articles help founders and entrepreneurs understand venture capital and proper financial valuation." Indeed they do, but more than that, his Medium posts support founders of his investment portfolio companies when they come under fire in the press with promises to immediately fund their next company, which remarkably seem to just disappear at about the time the founder might cash in on such support. The one that caught my eye here, though, Brock Pierce:

Brock Pierce, cryptocurrency guru. Wow. Except that name rang a bell. It reminded me of John Oliver and his "Last Week Tonight" show. Take a peak at this segment:

As you can hear, Oliver says "Just Google 'Brock Pierce scandal'" and so I did, and a few hits came up, such as this one:

"Just prior to DEN’s IPO, a young man identified only as Jake W. filed a lawsuit accusing Collins-Rector of sexually molesting him for three years, beginning in 1993, when W. was only 13. The IPO was cancelled; Collins-Rector, Pierce and Collins-Rector’s partner Chad Shackley resigned; and the company filed for bankruptcy.

When the company collapsed, Collins-Rector, Pierce and Shackley fled the United States after the three men had been accused of sexually abusing, drugging and making violent threats against underage DEN employees. The three were extradited to the United States for charges of transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts, however only Collins-Rector was charged."

So as an Executive Vice President this guy co-leads a company into bankruptcy, flees the country when accused of sexually abusing underage employees, and is extradited back to the country on charges of transporting minors for sex (he was ultimately not charged). Putting aside the nonsense he spouts on that clip, that is some pretty major personal brand development right there. Perhaps that's what they meant by "endured many entrepreneurial adventures"?

So there you go, a glimpse into the quality of research and the people who receive these awards. And yet it works, it actually opens doors and gets access to people with money. The tech press, and media in general, actually do influence who and what gets funded just through nonsense like this. I could point you to a number of founders of companies who are so busy actually doing good work and technology that they don't pursue this kind of thing, and consequently have a harder time raising money. If we want better startups funded and more actual science and business, and less bullshit and exaggeration, these lists just need to die. Until then, even founders who know what they really are have to play along, it's just part of the game.

So, anyway. Congratulations to Meredith Perry for receiving this award, alongside a man previously extradited to the USA for charges of transporting a minor across state lines for the purposes of engaging in sexual acts.

Thanks to "StillTrying" on EEVBlog for spotting the original tweet.

Edit: Coincidentally, I just read an article on a "cryptocurrency cruise" that is entertaining in itself as a glimpse into the insanity that is that world, but also because there's a reasonable amount of the article covering Brock Pierce, and shows a different side to him. I'd encourage you to read "Four Days Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche", it's well written and interesting.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Energous at CES 2019

So it appears that it's not just uBeam that will be showing at CES 2019, but that Energous (the company that claims to do at-distance wireless charging via RF) will be there as well. While they are not in the official exhibitors list, one of the EEVBlog readers pointed out to me that they've applied for an experimental demo license from the FCC (Special Temporary Authority) to show equipment there that does not have FCC approval. They did this earlier this year for CES 2018, as well as back in June 2016 when trying to demonstrate their earlier system to the FCC.

The application for CES 2019 is very similar to the 2018 version, though only for 2 systems not 13, but a key difference in the amount of power transmitted - 10 Watts ERP (Peak) not 30 Watts ERP (Peak) from a year before. Whatever the system they are showing at the upcoming CES, its peak output is 1/3 of the system from last year. It would be interesting to know why they did this - but without further information it is hard to tell. (One other thing that is different is that they do not include the low power wifi/bluetooth communication component. Forgotten, or done via a separate commercially available part?)

Note this power is way down from what they tried to demonstrate to the FCC in June 2016 - not only was it at 5.8 GHz rather than the current 913 MHz, they were at 56 Watts (Mean), so what they finally got approved in December 2017 was significantly lower in power than what they showed the FCC only 6 months prior, and what they are showing now is lower than that. I go into a lot of detail about those 2016/17 changes here.

Looking forward to CES 2019 and the tech press completely failing to question Energous effectively, yet again...

Update Dec 7th: I clarified the wording that at this time it is an application for the license, not awarded. Also there is an informal objection filed against this.

Update Dec 24th: Energous filed a response to the objection calling for it to be dismissed. It doesn't look like the FCC granted Energous the experimental license to demo their new toys yet, and then the government went on shutdown. They might not get it before CES and have to rely on showing the same things as last year. This might work in their favour, no limited visibility of their next-gen useless crap!

Update Jan 7th 2019: Experimental licence granted by FCC. Now they just have to have a product that is safe, practical, efficient, and useful. Perhaps in the next 18 months? :)