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Sunday, May 26, 2019

State of Wireless Charging in May 2019

I have to apologize for the low rate of postings - basically I'm slammed with work, personal ventures, and home/family. I'd like to be writing more, and talking about what I'm doing, but that's just not going to happen for a while. Hopefully more at the end of the year, but for now I'll use the long weekend to try and get at least a couple of articles done.

AirPower and Qi
My last article on wireless charging, noting the disappointment of AirPower and PiCharging (Spanse), got some mixed responses. Some industry insiders were not pleased with my portrayal of Qi as limited, and suggested that if I were to review a premium phone with the associated official charger that I'd have a different opinion. I agree that in a perfect world Qi can achieve some reasonable charge rates, however my hope for AirPower was that Apple removed the need for consumers to worry about positioning and would make it a seamless experience. Just "drop and go" and it's charged when you pick it up an hour or two later - but they couldn't do so. 

The problem isn't Qi's performance under ideal conditions, it's that if you need the ideal setup, a premium phone, and the expensive charger, then many users get a sub-par experience and then that experience taints things from there on out. You don't want consumers to think it's pointless? Give them a great experience first time out, and then that becomes the expectation and when there's a cheap knock-off charger that's $50 cheaper but charges at 1 W not 7.5 W they blame the cheap charger, not Qi. Let there be a tainted ecosystem where for years it's a crap shoot how things go then the standard gets blamed instead.

The reality of things is that consumers are dumb, and will take the cheapest and laziest route on everything. For example, I went to Amazon and typed "wireless charger Pixel 3" and I see the official Google wireless charger for ~$80 (4 star review) and an LK charger for $16 (4 star review). I understand this stuff and can't tell what the difference is, the average person has no chance. I have no idea if LK is any good or not, but is it 5x better than the Google? That's the price point most people expect, and are going to have a hard time justifying that extra $64. Now does that $16 charger work fast and well, or does it fail to charge due to positioning on a regular basis, or charge slowly? (I'll try and let you know in a few days, I just ordered it) If it fails on even a couple occasions and you lose phone use during the day because it didn't charge overnight then people start to default back to "just plug in with the wire that came with the thing". For the Pixel 3 that wire is an 18 W charger, and that's noticeably fast.

So can Qi be great when all is good with the setup? Yes. But if a consumer has to know the exact setup to use to get that then the $16 base unit sets the expectation, not the $80 one.

Update 28th May 2019: A reader tells me "The reason it (the Pixel Stand) costs $79 is not because it charges faster or with more placement forgiveness than some 3rd party charger like LK (although it does offer a proprietary 10W mode, so it should charge a Pixel3 somewhat faster than LK). Rather, the 'Google Screen' feature is why it is priced very high.  You need to use the Pixel 3 phone to unlock this feature, but it is really cool, IMHO... To simply take some Samsung or Apple phone and compare its charge rate on the Pixel Stand vs. the LK and obviously conclude that it is not worth the extra $64 is a waste of time and misleading." Seems a fair point, and I do have a Pixel Stand on the way too, I'll compare them in more than just the charge rate. Still, I had no idea there were even such features in the stand so I think my point on poor marketing of what may be excellent features stands!

It was also pointed out to me that what I was saying about the frequency of operation didn't make too much sense, which on rereading was a fair point. What I wanted to say came over badly, and there was no easy way to fix it, so I deleted it. Thank you for that feedback those who sent that comment.

Pi/Spanse and Qi
So this was the more interesting one, it seems. I had pointed out that I had thought Pi would be a success in part due to the use of the existing infrastructure of the inbuilt Qi charger, but that I was now confused as they talked about the need for a proprietary charging case didn't go down well with users. 

When I had written the first Pi article, I'd seen the original paper on the technology working at 6.78 MHz, and spoken to a couple of people I knew and trusted who had connections to the company and the answer came back "yes they shifted to 140 kHz". I also emailed the founder and specifically asked this question though didn't get a response (should have raised a flag there). I then went on to write the article based on that, and there's a lesson here for me in not believing something until I've seen it in verified. I think someone should start a blog about that...

Well suspicions now seem to be confirmed. If you go to Spanse's website you can see the "Source" that they are now essentially selling is a large Qi charging station that works with up to 6 devices and thick cases, for $189. Sure you get wifi for updating and a USB port for wired charging, but I've already got that in my laptop, or a wall socket, for a lot less. Now personally I don't have 6 devices that need charged, and I'm wondering if it's 12 times better than that LK charger I just ordered. It seems a bit large for bedside table use, so is it aimed at a kitchen table for a family, or an office? The generic image above shows it charging an iPad, but look closely and you'll see the iPad is wired charging, and given either the wall socket the Source is plugged into, or the laptop nearby, could have done it I'm struggling to see the clear use case. 

Importantly, the at-distance part is gone. What exactly happened is unclear, but rumours seem to be that the near-contact Qi charging was conflated with the at-distance charging that would need a proprietary case and a higher frequency. People I've chatted with who have some connections call it an honest mistake and miscommunication, but if true then I'm calling bullshit on "honest mistake" when the key aspects that made this interesting happen to not be true. Everyone knew what people wanted, and it was the convenience of modest charge rates at a modest distance, with pre-existing charging infrastructure. Add in the requirement of a new expensive case, and it's just another also-ran.

Ossia (wireless charging with RF, very similar to Energous) announced a deal for wirelessly charging IoT asset trackers in Walmart warehouses

...guards and associates will wirelessly power the asset trackers at warehouses’ guard shacks, ensuring the trackers are charged before they’re attached to incoming trailers, crates, pallets, and packages.

While the wording in the article seems to be ambiguous and points to also charging the handheld devices the employees use, I expect that fundamentally this is using their 2D array to locate and charge the small low power trackers that go on boxes and pallets in warehouses. Given that active RFID work at up to around 100 mW in short bursts (from recollection), a high microWatt, low milliWatt source that saves employees a minute on each tag across thousands of tags will be economically viable. From what I've seen, this is basically Powercast's business model and they've been out there for years quietly serving the market without the fanfare or exaggeration of Ossia or Energous.

Interestingly the Ossia VP interviewed talks about the "proof of concept" which makes me wonder if this is just a demo for Walmart and not an actual sale/rollout. Regardless, this very low power, intermittent need, in an industrial facility, which is the kind of thing that wireless power at-a-distance is actually suited for. It's one of the reasons all the companies talk about charging your phone fastert than a wire at multiple meters, but then move to "trickle charging" and then IoT, and then eventually out the consumer space entirely. All of them. No surprise, it's where they all inevitably go after having exhausted all the alternatives (and investor money).

Very briefly on Energous - I wondered if they would make their raise given the price of the stock, but it seems they did raise a further $25m from stock, and so now have cash to make it to early Q1 2020 assuming no reduction in staff or compensation. (I was told they had trouble selling that, cancelled the first offer and tried again, and ended up getting it from a short seller group, which is ironic. I have no confirmation on this, so take it with a pinch of salt) This still isn't enough to see them to revenue, given their own statements as to even the best case for products, so we'll be back here at the end of the year with the same thing again. We're also still waiting on any products with "WattUp" in them, such as the hearing aids (sorry, PSAPs) that were promised in no more than 90 days about a year ago. Don't hold your breath on those products.

Lastly, investors seem to be catching on, and share price for WATT has dipped and is now around $4.55. Tracking the stock price for the last year, it's not looking good for them. At what point do the institutional investors realize they've been had and bail?

Last and definitely least, uBeam. So little going on here compared to the others, Ossia and Spanse at least have technology that can sell even if it's not a wow, and Energous are quite entertaining, but what is happening with my former company? They're continuing to be fairly low profile, as they (presumably) try to package up IP and at least pretend there's a workable product in there somewhere to either licence or sell the company. 

I took a look to see if there had been any IP filed - generally you see what got filed about 1 year or more ago, and can tell what the company was working on at the time (not 100% certain, sometimes you still patent dead end paths). I was quite surprised by what I found looking at their filings. Now it's often hard to tell what are applications, what are grants, and what are just repeats in the system, but when you see that the most recent patent (10,252,908) was submitted in Feb 2018, that almost all the people listed on it had left the company 1 to 2 years prior to it, and that my name was one it as well, you can tell they're really not producing much new. In fact, going back through them I can see one other that was filed in 2018, and that's also from an employee who left in 2016. Maybe I'm missing a trove of them at the USPTO, but it looks like the bulk of the filings come from people who were there in 2015 and not much beyond. How do you sell a company based on IP when you've not produced new IP in years, the people who did produce that IP have long since left, one of them writes a blog criticizing you, and there's no product?

It seems that uBeam might now hire a third person since their (supposed) $25 million fundraise over 14 months ago. This time, it's a Chief Commercial/Revenue Officer.

uBeam is seeking to hire a Chief Commercial Officer/Chief Revenue Officer. uBeam is the inventor of ultrasonic power-at-a-distance Always-On Wireless EnergyTM, utilizing ultra-safe ultrasonic array technology to deliver reliable, long-range wire-free charging. By developing proprietary transducers, transmitters, receivers, and custom enterprise software, uBeam’s technology delivers usable power to devices ranging from portable electronics, medical, aerospace, automotive, and in particular IoT devices and networks. Significant revenue-generating experience in these fields, coupled with successful B2B licensing experience is essential. Experience in acoustic technology, phased array radar or ultrasound is also highly beneficial.

So "Always-On Wireless Energy" is their new tagline I guess, since it gets a 'TM', although no-one bothered with a superscript. Apparently the technology is not just safe but "ultra-safe" which I'm not sure the definition of but given the emphasis here, they must be feeling a bit of vulnerability on this front. I don't follow why a C-level "revenue" officer needs to have tech experience but bizarrely they want someone with "significant revenue-generating experience in these fields" and I'm not sure who that could be because quite literally no at-distance wireless power company has ever done that - not Energous, not Ossia, perhaps only PowerCast that actually have had a product on sale for a while.

Lots of references to dealing with board members in the ad, as well as fundraising. "The CCO/CRO will be required to present to the Board of Directors on a regular basis, and from time to time will be involved in fund-raising activities on behalf of the company.", "Successful experience in fund raising and pitching to investors.", "Have considerable experience presenting at Board of Directors meetings.", and "Ability to efficiently interact with board members."

It's a bit odd to be looking for a C-level hire via regular job board postings, those are mostly done via word of mouth, personal connections, and specialized recruiters. As someone on the EEV Blog pointed out - sounds a lot like the role a CEO should be doing. Is the uBeam CEO looking for a scapegoat already, or is this a replacement?

Phrasing also indicates they're aiming for markets outside the US, which on the one hand you can understand because the professed model needs contract manufacturers which are still heavily in China, but given every other country outside the USA definitively has a 115dB or less ultrasound limit (1000x less power than at the professed 145dB), the product is not viable there unless they ignore the law. "Experience in dealing with issues on an international basis: understanding of the North American and European landscape (knowledge of the Asian market would be a plus)."

As far as I know, this is a new position, so not from the Perry era and gives a confirmation to the business strategy the company is taking - B2B licensing, with contract manufacturers, and keep it going long enough to bamboozle for another round of investment.

Oh and apparently "Benefits that are 2nd to none!". Yeah, I'm going to call bullshit on that. How much PTO? How much in RSUs and bonus? Sabbaticals? Educational supplement? Matching 401k? My recollection (and that of more recent departees) is good benefits for a startup, but can't match that of larger companies.

Last thing for this article - uBeam don't post much on social media like LinkedIn so it was interesting to see them link to this safety article from the CTO of Wi-Charge (laser based power delivery)

Forbes just put out a good new article on wireless charging. Wireless Charging can take on many forms, but not all of them are safe and effective. uBeam's ultrasonic wireless power is a differentiated technology that can safely transmit energy over the air across long distances to charge a wide array of electronic devices. 

The premise of the piece was on regulatory and safety aspects of wireless power, yet uBeam used it to claim safety for their own system. Now we don't know what uBeam have (cough), and they do claim "third party testing" has proved it safe, but never released those reports, despite questions on how they can do what they claim at 145 dB when it exceeds sound limits around the world. For those wondering about various limits, I have a list here.

I have to wonder - do they know and know they are lying, do they deep down suspect and are avoiding checking so they can pretend to themselves they aren't lying, are they just that dumb, or are they true believers? The psychology of this is fascinating, as perhaps each person pretends it's not their responsibility and keeps cashing the paycheque. I really want to find this out someday, sadly I think it's just going to be one of those mysteries.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Wireless Charging in 2019

Things aren't looking so good for wireless charging in 2019. There have been a few announcements in the last few weeks that have not been positive for the industry as a whole. Let's start with the big one:

Apple and AirPower
After over a year of delay since the announcement, Apple finally cancelled AirPower, their multi-device charging pad, based on Qi. This pad was supposed to be able to charge your iPhone, Apple watch, and Airpods all at one time, just dropping them onto the pad. Qi uses inductive charging to transfer power over no more than a few centimeters, though in practice it needs to be in contact.

Apple's statement from a Senior VP of Hardware Engineering:

“After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward,”

Qi had some limitations - the charged device needed positioned carefully to ensure good charging, was only one device at a time, regularly managed only a couple of Watts charging, and had something of a transmitter/receiver interoperability nightmare - much of the variability happening due to individual device or imperfect positioning. AirPower was supposed to use Apple's technology and market power to overcome all of those and make it simple, easy, effective. While Qi had some limitations from the initial design, it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that someone with the pockets and infrastructure to force the market in one direction could make it good enough (even if not perfect). 

There must have been tremendous pressure within the company to make this work, having made a major public announcement. Apple even spent over $100 million to buy PowerbyProxi, who had claimed to have solved all these issues. Apparently not, and it would be interesting to see if PbP could actually do what they claimed when bought. It's likely heads will roll over something like this, it's a major screw up and not something to be taken lightly.

Reportedly, the issue was heating - not enough power getting to the devices, for too much heat in the pad. Those inefficiencies come back to bite you, even if you are willing to pay the $ cost of it. What were the likely tradeoffs? Likely adding many small transmit coils to be able to work with any placements of receivers, while determining it's a genuine receiver and not a piece of metal, while limiting crosstalk between coils, without exceeding FCC limits for safety, while making it a simple seamless user experience.

I actually thought Apple would pull it off, after all if anyone is going to it would be them, and other arms of Apple thought so too, with images of AirPower showing up in the documentation for the recently released new AirPods. Perhaps it mostly worked but that's not good enough for Apple, or that there were still some placement issues, or that there was a small chance of something overheating which when you sell 100 million+ a year becomes an inevitability. I was confident enough they'd release it that I even made some statements about it in a recent interview, so of course they then immediately made me look like an idiot. :)

So even with the resources of the largest company in the world, multiple years, working from a known standard, and at zero distance, wireless power beyond the most rudimentary we already have can't currently be made to work satisfactorily for consumers. What does this say about the Energous, Ossia, and uBeam's of the world who want to charge as many devices, at the same charge rate, with new technology at multiple meters? For $100 million, Apple could easily buy one of them to replace AirPower (in face, Energous share price spiked slightly as delusional fanboys claimed this was an opportunity - the same fanboys that likely claimed AirPower had Energous in it when announced...) - yet they don't.

What does this mean for wireless charging moving forward? I'd say don't expect any changes soon, but perhaps Apple have learned enough that a future product will be good enough - but no matter what, nothing will ever be as fast, efficient, safe, and low cost as a wire. 

Pi Charging is now Spansive
About 18 months ago I wrote an article on Pi Charging, which used Qi but tried to 'shape' the fields to extend the charging range into the 10s of centimeters, and would work from a cone shaped object that would sit on a bench or table. It seemed ambitious, but not ridiculously so that it wasn't achievable - range was not excessive, charge rates normal for Qi, so I was fairly optimistic they'd get somewhere with it. As recently as 6 months ago they were still promoting it, but it seems the company has now undergone some changes and has rebranded as "Spansive".

According to the CEO, the user testing did found that the cone took up too much desktop space, and that the users did not want a custom case but rather just want to use "brand name cases". Now this seems odd, as in the original article it seemed that they were using the built in Qi capability, and in fact that's one reason I thought it would be a success, as it operated with existing infrastructure. Interestingly, this data says to me that wireless charging is of so little utility to consumers that they won't swap a case or put an Alexa sized hub on their desk. The co-founder then goes on to say:

“Qi is just not designed, even philosophically if you talk to people at the Qi standard, it’s not focused on one foot, two feet of range.” says MacDonald. “It’s really focused on surfaces and areas rather than volumes.”

This is odd, as it's no surprise what the Qi standard was when the company raised its $14m Series A. Next they say they'll be working with partners to licence its "volumetric" tech in specific products, with the usual "wireless headphones" listed. Mentioning licensing without specifics is usually code for "we've got nothing" so I'm not holding my breath here.

In the blog post, the co-founder talks of essentially a flat plate or container where you can place multiple phones and not worry about orientation, and is Qi compatible (despite the noting of its limits). So... AirPower? Constraining their "volumetric" technology to a plane? Who knows, but there was plenty of waffling and marketing speak to get me concerned - when you say "It will ship imminently" without giving a date, it makes me laugh. Let's see what they do in the next few months.

After AirPower, seems I'm now 0 for 2 in predicting wireless charging product launches...

Next I'll try to write on Energous, they continue their downward share price trajectory, have yet to have a commercial product available, and may have even struggled to complete their share offer which, if true, puts them in a position of running out of money in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Dialog Expect Low Volume Energous Sales in 2019

Earlier today Dialog Semiconductor announced on their conference call that they do not expect significant sales for Energous in 2019. Dialog is a large semiconductor manufacturer who produce, market, and sell Energous electronics to third parties, and previously invested up to $25 million in Energous. In the words of Dialog, the relationship is where:

We provide the product manufacturing and marketing part of that partnership. They do the front-end system design, the technology, the engagement with the customers in terms of getting into new areas

While Dialog claim to sell the parts, unlike most electronics parts there are no standard data sheets available for the Energous components, and you can't order them from their website, almost as if they don't want anyone to know the actual performance. As Dialog are a publicly traded company, they have earnings calls, and today they were asked how things were going with Energous. The link above has the full transcript, but here's a couple of relevant parts:

For 2019, it would be some amount of, if you like, low-volume shipment to innovative customers, first-time users, etcetera, who are trying things.

We don’t expect large volume in 2019. In fact, we have shipped already some units, but we’re talking thousands, they’re not millions. 

This is at odds with statement's from Energous' CEO, Steve Rizzone, from last week's WATT conference call:

A similar situation befell us with the second top-tier opportunity we were tracking for Q4 revenue. The customer was planning a second quarter product launch, which would have triggered a meaningful order in the fourth quarter of last year to support preproduction and initial mass production manufacturing ramp. ... With these changes, we now anticipate the associated chip order will come and ship in the second quarter of this year.

as well as:

We expect to see a number of additional products shipping to the consumer in 2019... A case in point is the fact that we expect to see a number of WattUp-enabled hearing aids from different manufacturers launched to the consumer in 2019.

Hmmm, who to believe?

Dialog announce expected volumes of a few thousand units, at a few dollars each? Given this, it confirms my expectations of no leaps in Energous revenue for the next three quarters.

Another potential issue this raises is that just last week Energous moved forward with a new stock offering, and raised around $23m, which at the current burn rate will barely last for 2 quarters, not enough to get them to 2020 and even a chance of volume sales. Steven Rizzone, CEO, had stated:

The transaction raised $25 million less expenses, which factoring on our existing cash, forecasted revenues, reduced expense budget for the year, should fund the Company for the foreseeable future. 

Let's be generous and say that the 'foreseeable future' is 4 quarters, in which case they need to cut expenses from around $50 million a year to $24 million a year. In the last couple of years expenses have been roughly $30 million in R&D (mostly headcount, currently 71), and around $16 million in stock compensation. So the CEO and pals can keep their stock comp and slash staff by about 50 people, though that  won't exactly look like a company with a future. Alternatively, they could give up 100% of their stock compensation, and only have to lose about 15% of the staff (11 or so). 

So slash staff, equity comp, or a mystery source of revenue? Hands up everyone who sees this crowd giving up their equity comp, or the magic money fairy dropping a large bag of $ at WATT HQ?

Speaking of stock, it is not having a good time right now. Here is WATT over the last year - see if you can spot where rumours of Energous being in the Samsung Galaxy S10 started, and when it was announced that it absolutely was not.

Only down 73% since this time last year...

(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.)

Monday, February 25, 2019

What's Next for Energous?

A summary of what's in this article:
  • Energous are doing their Q4 2018 earnings call from MWC 2 weeks later in February than usual
  • They are likely to be running out of money by April without a further raise
  • A $75m raise will not see them to profitability even under the marketing fantasies promoted
  • Rumours of presence in the Galaxy S10 were false (shock) but boosted the stock price temporarily
  • Adverts for the Delight PSAP are appearing, labelled 'Hearing Aid', violating FDA rules
  • Specs indicate 20 to 50mW charging, probably at 2 to 5% efficiency max
  • The PSAP might work for 10 hours after 4 hours charging, with 6 months of use
  • Beaten in all specs by rechargeable hearing aids released in 2016
  • The 20 Watt near field charging announced will IMO never be safe or meet FCC regulations, hence why it's shown in Europe
  • The collaboration announced with vivo Global is "exploratory" and will IMO never amount to anything
  • Such exploration with vG either violates the non-competes in the semi-mythical "Tier One" contract, that agreement has expired, or is not with a phone company as Energous often hint

My last coverage of Energous was during the Christmas/New Year week when they announced a "new product" that happened to be a rebadging of a previous release from 8 months prior. Now that aside, the key issue for Energous was that towards the end of Q3, they had just under $29m in the bank with $12.5m/quarter expenses, meaning they had 7 months operating capital, and that was 5 months ago... So with a capital raise essential, where does the company stand? It's been 5 months since the last quarterly earnings call (no, that doesn't add up) and since then they've done a rather flat CES, and then a mysterious "oh Energous will be in the Samsung S10" which pumped the shareprice a little. If any of you remember the same game with Apple over the last couple of years that never yielded a product, bonus points to you. Today saw a near 10% drop in the stock price as everyone realized they'd been had - again.

So with a desperate need for cash and no sales to speak of, what can Energous do? Cutting expenses will keep it going a little longer, but go too far and no-one believes you have a strong technological future. You have to have products and sales to justify a high share price. Just a reminder of what they said in the earnings call in February 2018.

We expect the first contact-based transmitters will be in the hands of the consumers in early 2018, followed by the first at-distance transmitters coming in late 2018, culminating in far-field transmitters coming to the market in 2019.

We're heads down focused on commercialization, and we believe that the $40 million is sufficient capital to get us to that point (profitability).

Yes, it's clear they were wrong in every single part of what they said there. 

The main method that the company can use to raise is to issue more shares in the company (diluting existing shareholders) and sell to the market. The amount of dilution will depend on the raise, and the share price sold at, so it's in the company's interest to pump the stock as much as possible prior to a sale - I cover here a few of the tricks they do regarding that

With $50m a year in expenses, the $75m sale they registered for last year will, at best, do them 18 months without further revenue - and there's no chance of significant revenue in that time without products. So, they have to give the idea that they will have significant product sales in 2018 and 2019 to support that, given the long-distance wireless charging is at least 18 months out (and IMO will never be released, it's pointless). 

PSAP/Hearing Aids
Energous need to get products out there to keep the charade going, but also to release products will then allow them into the hands of the public who can actually test them and see how awful they really are. The company either has to admit delay again and risk the share price collapse, or release and definitively prove how little they have. One of the key products they've been hanging their hat on since the middle of last year has been hearing aids (or more precisely a PSAP - Personal Sound Amplification Product - since the term 'hearing aid' is controlled by the FDA and they cannot sell claiming it is such without approval). Amazingly, there's now some information on this, and there is at least a listing on Alibaba that gives a price of up to $600, a release date of March 2019, and specs:

So a few points here - first of which is they are literally labeling it a hearing aid! It's written on the base unit and the specs reference hearing loss, so hardly any way to avoid breaking regulatory limits if it's sold in the US.

Next, we finally have some data on charging - 3 to 4 hours charging for 15 hours of use, using a Li-Ion battery. Great, now Li-Ion batteries are at 3.6 volts (regulated down to the standard 1.4v for your regular zinc-air hearing aid batteries), and they can't yet be made in the small hearing aid packages, so more like a size 13 package. (Hearing aid batteries come in 4 sizes, size 13 is the 3rd largest). Data here indicates that it's around 42 mAh 'effective capacity', compared to around 310 mAh in a standard size 13 battery, barely 15%. Interestingly this site also indicates that there's around a 30% reduction in capacity after 6 months of daily charging. It's going to be annoying charging for 3 to 4 hours for 10 hours of use, and remember because these are Li-Ion they are sealed in the package for safety.

Most hearing aids draw around 2mA, so at about 70% efficiency that gives around 15 hours of use, matching the numbers above. Now convert that to Watts, and 1.4 volts and 42 mAh means around 60mWh, and at 3 hours to charge, that's about 20 mW charging. Ouch - even if I were generous and said 3.6 volts that's 150 mWh so 50 mW charging. If that's the standard charger that emits 1 Watt, it's around 2 to 5% efficiency. If that's the best Energous can do with their receiver chips, it's somewhat embarrassing even for them. Sad for a company that only a few years ago claimed it could send power to phones at over 12 feet and up to 4 Watts.

I'm also not sure how this product can be sold, in the US at least. Where's the FCC ID for the transmitter and receiver? A search of the FCC system shows no new IDs for those companies. Any regulatory approval for other countries?

Of course, they may be timing the 'release' of this product until after a share sale, and that miraculously it never makes it to market...

Now is this a revolutionary product that will delight users? Nope. Here's Signia's Cellion, with rechargable batteries, a docking station with inductive charging, and claims 50 mAh, 1500+ recharges, 7 hours of use on a 30 minute charge, 24+ hours of use on a full charge, and announced in 2016. (And, unlike PSAPS, these are hearing aids). So well done Energous, you fail to match every specification on a near 3 year old product. 

20 Watt Near Field Charging
Energous are at the Mobile World Congress and today apparently demonstrated their 20 Watt Near Field charging. Now I about fell off my chair when I read that - if you look at their 2018 near field approval, it shows 1 Watt transmitted and sitting at the SAR safety limit, while recommending no-one remain within 10 centimeters of the product in operation. And they go to 20 Watts? There's a reason they are showing in Europe, and it's because the FCC would have a fit it they did that. I'm surprised the European regulators aren't all over that (if anyone knows EU regulations on the ~900 MHz band, please contribute). The only way I could see this being safe is if they put it in a metal box and it only worked with the lid closed. The old joke about putting your iPhone in the microwave to charge it is one step closer to reality...

Think these guys aren't averse to putting an unshielded microwave out there? Here's Mark Hopgood, senior director of strategic marketing for power-chip manufacturer Dialog Semiconductor, who invested in and make the chips for Energous:

“We have some customers doing this. If you have proof there is nothing between the charger and the receiver, you can turn it up to something more like microwave oven levels.”

I need to go look up OSHA rules on RF exposure now.

Regardless, IMO this will never come to fruition as a product for consumers. It's not safe, and will never meet regulatory compliance. It's just another way to fool people without any in-depth understanding of the technology. Is this why they delayed the earnings call, so they could show off something that will never meet FCC compliance in another country? Anything to push that stock price up.

A Phone Company!
Finally, Energous announce they'll be in a phone. 

Energous Corporation the developer of WattUp, a revolutionary wireless charging 2.0 technology, today announced a collaboration with vivo Global, a leading Chinese technology company, to explore integrating WattUp into smartphone designs that charge wirelessly over-the-air.

“We are excited to announce a collaboration with vivo, a top 6 global smartphone manufacturer, to explore the use of our WattUp wireless charging 2.0 technology,” said Stephen R. Rizzone

Well, no. They announce a "collaboration" with vivo Global, to "explore the use of WattUp", so basically nothing. One of my earliest articles on Energous was how they use carefully worded announcements to let the reader make inferences that aren't in fact there. Like everything Energous, it will utterly fail to meet the expectations set, other than to boost the stock price temporarily.

Further, don't Energous often make reference to a "Tier One" vendor contract (often intimating that it's Apple) that have restrictions on who they can work with? If so, then the Tier One agreement is no longer in place, or the Tier One isn't a phone company. Either way, not good for Energous!

Earnings Call
The Q4 2018 earnings call will be this Wednesday 27th, in the morning US time (5.30am Pacific) as the executive team is at MWC. I'm looking forward to how they spin all this, I'm always amazed by the true genius (and shamelessness) of Energous in how they keep this thing going. It has to end one day, but they seem to be able to get blood out of a stone better than anyone.

(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.)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Every TED Talk Ever

The amazing story of a founder who with no experience but grit, determination, financial security, and a healthy sense of hustle, raised $60 million to solve the biggest problem she could find.


Once you've watched it, read the reaction the author got to the performance in this LinkedIn post.

Exactly 7 days before the October TEDx event in Oakland, the event organizer put out a call to Bay Area comedians to perform a 7-minute set at TEDx that weekend.

Instead, I pitched him a character I’d been working on: a Frankenperson cobbled together from the stories of every out-of-touch startup founder and thought leader cliche I’d seen during my time in the tech industry -- complete with brightly-colored blazer.

He agreed. Though, in hindsight, I don’t think he knew what he was signing on for.

Big round of applause for Lindsey Quinn here. For more parodies of TED talks watch this:

Or the most ridiculous parody of them all:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Startup PR 102: Astroturfing

Edits and update, 10th Feb 2019: Upon further investigation and discussions, it looks like the website in question was not an official uBeam attempt at astroturfing, but a genuine effort by individuals to promote women in technology that ended prematurely in large part due to my blog post. While it highlights the rule of "never use company resources for non-company activities", those involved should be commended for promoting role models in an under-represented group (though clearly I'd not personally choose Perry as a role model for anyone). I think this post does make some important points on how companies can and do use PR (and clearly on how company history affects current reception) so while I won't delete the post I have made some updates to reflect this new information, I'd ask that everyone view the original website, and its creators, in the positive spirit that was intended.

Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants.

When I named my blog, it was to try to convey the idea that the PR you see from startups is not what it seems, in a different way than what you typically get from established companies. When you have no product and no revenue, all you can sell is the hope or the illusion - one being a genuine belief in your goal, the other simply saying whatever it takes to keep the next round of funding viable. One way of establishing this illusion is to get other outlets to make statements on your behalf, and make it seem like there are established and independent third parties backing your stance - for example getting one media outlet to quote you without checking the source of your claim, then later using that media outlet as a reference to other media. Very quickly, you end up with the myth you created seemingly quoted as fact, and your fingerprints are not on it, unless someone cares to dig a little deeper. Here's an example I quoted in a previous post:

The founder of Red Hat (now a ~$25 billion company) needed to gain credibility for his product, so he essentially gamed a 'study' of high Linux user growth, and got a small Linux journal to quote him. Then he managed to get BusinessWeek to quote the Linux journal, and suddenly this made-up statistic had all the authority of being stated in a prestigious national publication. He abused the lack of fact checking and diligence to plant an idea in the media as if it had substance, and used that to help promote his own company.

What can happen if you get this myth going enough? Let's see what Marc Cuban, uBeam investor, said about seeing a prototype of the uBeam system prior to investing:

Have you seen a prototype?

No. I trust her (Perry) enough that I haven’t gone out and said, ‘Show it to me.’ She’s shown it to enough people that I trust what’s going on.

So he'd not seen a prototype, or from this sentence spoken to anyone else that had, but invested on the premise that someone else must have. I'd be interested in hearing from any of those people she'd shown it to. This quote is from July 2015, and in a recent interview Perry admitted that no charge had ever been transmitted to a phone until 6th Dec 2016, nearly 18 months later. Hmmm.

One thing a startup often relies upon is the "Myth of the Founder", and in many cases this serves the company well, at least for a time. With Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes was lauded almost right up until the SEC and DOJ pressed charges against her (and in the case of investor Tim Draper, long after), while Tesla sees great publicity, headlines, and stock performance due to the media presence of Elon Musk, though that has not been as effective recently. When the company has little in the way of product, puff pieces on the founders can still generate great publicity for the company. uBeam co-founder Meredith Perry was a great example of this, for example with this article from Fortune magazine in July 2015 entitled "Is this woman the next Elon Musk?".

Now the value of that headline for any tech company, regardless if the answer is "OMG no are you smoking crack?" or not, is incredible. Fortune magazine said it, so it must have some truth to it. Interestingly, despite the positive headline, the story itself contained a skeptical paragraph.

In late 2014, uBeam—flush after raising $10 million from investors—announced that it had finalized a working prototype. “There may be people on the Internet who don’t believe it’s true,” Perry says. But those who see it “are converted instantly.” (She declined to show the prototype to Fortune.)

So again, a working prototype claimed in late 2014, but how does that mesh with the "first charging in Dec 2016" statement? At least the journalist had the sense to ask for a demonstration, and indicate it wasn't shown despite its ability for a Damascene like conversion. Regardless, how many will remember this, and how many will simply look and think "Next Elon Musk!"? Priceless PR, and something any company should aim for. Overall, at least in the moment, PR done well.

PR done not so well
Now you may remember that Perry 'stepped down' as CEO of uBeam last year, and so it was interesting see recent coverage of Perry as a leader in technology. The website, Women in Technical Leadership, features Perry as their first, and currently only, woman who has made an impact in STEM. (Update, taken down as of 31/1/19, you can find the archived versions here and here) Now this is a laudable goal, as women are dramatically underrepresented in technology, and anything that encourages more women into STEM fields, at all stages, is to be encouraged. So what are some of the things it says about Perry?

In the early stages of her career, Meredith Perry has given a TEDx talk on how to be a technology innovator which IEEE boasts as "amazing" and certainly proved you do not have to be an engineer to create something. While Forbes has compared her to the likes of other entrepreneurs, she is in a league of her own that is near impossible to match. We celebrate Meredith Perry for being an exceptional role model to young women everywhere!

To find out more about Meredith Perry's company, visit www.ubeam.com

High praise indeed, and it's apparently going to be downhill from here in the quality of the awardees since she's so "impossible to match". And that's great publicity for the company she co-founded, even though there's no mention of her departure as CEO. (Quick question - does anyone have a reference for that IEEE "amazing" quote? Update: Someone found this brief Facebook post from the IEEE and let me know - hardly an in depth technical analysis, and slightly annoying from the IEEE given how she discusses engineers in a negative light in that link)

So who put this website and award together? According to the main page the copyright is "©2018 by Women in Technical Leadership" and reading the blurb:

Women in Technical Leadership is a culmination of engineers wanting to highlight the selected woman's accomplishments and make their achievements better known. Sponsored by a start-up in Marina Del Rey, the staff have decided to examine the women from the region of Southern California. 

Marina Del Rey? Why is that familiar? Perhaps it's because uBeam is based at 4086 Del Rey Avenue, in Marina Del Rey. Oh.

Let's delve a little deeper and take a look at the "Get in Touch" button which sends to an email at... ubeam.com. And a look at the WHOIS registry for the domain name, it was registered on the 15th January 2019 to uBeam, Inc.

So has uBeam has started a website for women in technical leadership which is fantastic, praising their own co-founder, but for some reason not prominently mentioning it's a uBeam owned site, which is a reasonable disclosure to make? If so, some might call this astroturfing, where an organization tries to make it appear the message they want out has come from an independent person or group.

Further, why would the new CEO, who had barely been on the job for two weeks, start a website to praise his predecessor, when he needs to be making product, licensing IP, or selling the company? Hardly something worthy of their efforts. And if not his doing, or official uBeam PR, then why does it use uBeam email and uBeam Inc as part of the operation? It's not like you need a company to get an email, register a domain, and start a website.

While there may be more, I see three main possibilities here:
  1. The new CEO is, for some reason, spending time, effort, and money promoting his predecessor, in a way that gains publicity for his company, but not overtly declaring that relationship.
  2. There's at least one uBeam employee that did this and while a very valuable site for the promotion of under-represented groups, it's tainted by the uBeam/Perry names. (Update: from LinkedIn and Twitter, it's looking more like this is what's happened, as well as it rapidly being taken down)
  3. It's an official uBeam PR attempt from a few months ago, only just becoming public.
None of them is a good look. The first seems, at least to me, as somewhat devious and effectively astroturfing, the second is really unfortunate as a worthwhile endeavour is tainted by association with uBeam and Perry, the third very similar to the first. Looking at the CEO's background, I'd say his competency should be assumed and that it's one of the other two, not something he probably even knew about. There's little he can do now, given the public nature of this, that's not going to look like damage control. I feel for him. (There could of course be a more innocent explanation I haven't thought of, feel free to add in the comments.)

So next time you read such positive publicity about a founder, or anyone else, take a look at who is behind it, it might be quite illuminating.

What would I do?
One of the things that people have said is that it's really easy to take shots from the sidelines, rather than be "the man in the arena". Fair enough call, so if I were CEO, here's what I'd do:

Own it, get out in front of it. Revamp the page to make it clear and unambiguous it's uBeam owned and sponsored, and do some blurb on how awesome the co-founder was and the company now wants to give back to the community and help women in tech based on her example (losing the SoCal restriction). I'd task the employees who were responsible that they need to be working on this and get a new person featured each month, in addition to their normal jobs, and have them supervised by someone with actual PR experience. And I'd have each of the featured women be able to allocate $5,000 from uBeam to a relevant charity of choice, get quotes from them, and then use that to get features in other publications and low cost PR. If asked why the original looked the way it did, I'd just say it went live early by accident. If it doesn't work out, drop it after a few months, as no-one noticed anyway.

Or just delete it and pretend it never happened. Flip a coin. :)

Update 30th Jan 2019: I'd originally titled this "Hagiography: a pejorative reference to biographies and histories whose authors are perceived to be uncritical of or reverential to their subject", but I felt "Astrofurfing" was a better term.

Update 31st Jan 2019: WOT Website has been taken down.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Ultrasound in Air: Safety and Regulations

This is a post for references, there's minimal commentary, just links for ultrasound in air background reading, regulatory and safety and a few notes on each. I've previously commented on ultrasound in air and safety considerations across multiple posts, but I wanted to put together a post that will contain relevant information in a single place. I intend this to be a 'living post' and will be updated as more documents/regulations are included, or regulations are updated - so it's a work in progress. If you're knowledgeable in the field and have a reference I should include, please let me know by email or in the comments.

General Reading
Are some people suffering as a result of increasing mass exposure of the public to ultrasound in air? by T.G. Leighton. A great starting point as it covers the history of ultrasound limits in air, details of possible adverse effects, and with recommendations for further study and safety considerations. An extensive list of this author's work, including further research on ultrasound in air, can be found here.

Wireless Power Transfer to Millimeter-Sized Nodes Using Airborne Ultrasound by Angad S. Rekhi, Butrus T. Khuri-Yakub, and Amin Arbabian. Detailed, peer reviewed paper published in Transaction on UFFC in 2017, best paper to date on the topic. Indicates microWatt level power transfer viable.

Damage to human hearing by airborne sound of very high frequency or ultrasonic frequency by B.W. Lawton for the Health and Safety Executive in the UK, a literature and standards survey in 2001.

A Review of Current Ultrasound Exposure Limits, Carl Q. Howard, Colin H. Hansen and Anthony C. Zander. A 2004 study which concludes "Until more definitive data become available, it is recommended that the more conservative standard proposed by the Health Canada [13] and listed in Table 1 be adhered. This means that sound pressure levels should be less than 110dB above 25kHz, regardless of the exposure duration, to prevent the undesirable subjective effects of ultrasound."

Effects of Ultrasonic Noise on the Human Body—A Bibliographic Review Bożena Smagowska. A review of other ultrasound safety papers, with the following quote "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]."

Guidelines for the Safe Use of Ultrasound: Part II – Industrial and Commercial Applications by Environmental Health Directorate Health Protection Branch, Canada  Canadian guide to potential harmful effect of ultrasound, with the quotes "In addition, Acton (Ac 74) has reported on unpublished work by Parrack indicating that mild heating in skin clefts has been observed in the SPL range of 140-150 dB...  It is plausible that chronic lengthy exposures to levels between 145 and 155 dB might also be harmful, as they could raise body temperatures to mild fever levels during the exposure periods. However, as indicated in Section 3 of this guideline, such high sound-pressure levels have never been encountered in either commercial or industrial applications... However, in the ultrasonic frequency range, if potential problems due to heating are to be avoided, total linear measured SPL exposure to other parts of the body must never exceed 137 dB. This value is based on the lowest value (140 dB) (see Figure 2) which allegedly has led to mild heating of skin clefts. A safety factor of 3 dB (a factor of 2 in energy) should ensure that no significant heating of a human could occur."

Environmental Health Criteria: Ultrasound. 1982 WHO summary of ultrasound limits and safety studies. 

OSHA and Global dB limits. Covers Occupational Safety and Health considerations, and shows a limit of 115 dB above 40 kHz in the USA for the workplace (not home, consumer etc exposure). No mention of a 145 dB limit. Notes limits around the world are between 110 and 115 dB.

Underwriters Labs (UL) Testing. From UL's website "UL helps companies demonstrate safety, confirm compliance, enhance sustainability, manage transparency, deliver quality and performance, strengthen security, protect brand reputation, build workplace excellence, and advance societal wellbeing". This is a standards document you need to purchase to read in its entirety, the relevant section is 12.5.2, a pic of that section is below. Limits SPL to 110 dB in useable area of most devices.

FDA Requirements for Radiative Devices. Even for non-medical use, any radiation emitting device, including ultrasound, can fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA. An abbreviated report, needs filled out, and cannot be done until there is a product as it requests brand, model number, output levels, frequency, operating conditions etc. Anyone claiming that the FDA does not regulate ultrasound in air devices should be asked to demonstrate why this does not apply. There are also details  under the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 particularly in section 1002 that states the main exceptions are if the product is only for export or:

"Manufacturers of electronic products listed in table 1 of this section if such product is sold exclusively to other manufacturers for use as components of electronic products to be sold to purchasers"

essentially, if you sell parts to other companies, you don't need to go through the FDA, but whoever sells the final product will.

International Non-Ionizing Radiation Committee of the International Radiation Protection Association. (INIRC-IRPA). 1984. Interim guidelines on the limits of human exposure to airborne ultrasound, and concludes the general public should not be exposed to ultrasound at levels above 100 dB regardless of frequency.

Groups/Societies/Investigative Bodies
Health Effects of Ultrasound in Air (HEFUA). "HEFUA is the UK consortium (encompassing researchers, clinicians, policymakers, and the public) that addresses the fact that humans are being increasingly exposed to ultrasound in air through commercial devices. There is insufficient understanding of how these devices affect health, even when exposures are known." This page also has links to multiple documents on ultrasound in air.

Biological Effects
More specific papers on ultrasound effect on biology
Subharmonic Distortion in Ear Canal Pressure and Intracochlear Pressure and Motion by Stanley Huang, Wei Dong, and Elizabeth S. Olson  which looks at the generation of subharmonics, that is frequencies lower than the transmitted sound, in the eardrum from high intensity ultrasound.

Weaponizing Sound
Acoustic Weapons - A Prospective Assessment by Jürgen Altmanna. A good summary of ultrasound used as a weapon.


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.

Update Jan 19th: Confirmed that it is the white box transmitter.

Update Jan 24th: following some conversations with those who got to see the private suite demo:

The transmitter was on a motorized rotational stage, turning an estimated +/- 45 degrees to steer the beam. If that's the case, I do not understand why they bother with individual elements and a phased array - just get a focused bowl arrangement and steer mechanically, it would be simpler and much cheaper. The CES floor show demo seemed to show phased array operation, so perhaps there's a very limited steering angle and gross motions need mechanical steering?

There were items taped to the wall, on the door etc to show charging of items like "smart locks", however the device itself never charged, it was always an LED that lit up to indicate power was being delivered. That means it could be as low as around 20 mW received.

Those who held the next generation transducers seemed to think them roughly the same lateral dimensions as the Muratas, perhaps a bit thinner, but nowhere close to the "4x smaller area, 100x thinner" listed in the Oct 17 fundraising. They did say that the demo was being done with COTS devices.

Generally the view was that the presentation materials were not particularly professional. Given what they showed, it seems they booked a slot at CES prematurely, I have to think this hurt more than helped - but maybe I'm just a dumb engineer.