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Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes Finally Faces Criminal Charges

It's been some time coming, but the CEO of Theranos is finally facing criminal charges for fraud, as the WSJ's Carreyrou repor...

Thursday, September 20, 2018

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 family... I mean make way for a more seasoned CEO. As always seems to happen with big uBeam stories, I had work commitments that meant I had barely a few minutes to type up a post as it happened, so I'm only just getting to my thoughts on this late at night. Now bear in mind I have access to no more information than any of you on this event, so this article is simply my best guess based on knowing much of the history and the personality of the people involved.

There's a small number of articles that have any hint of original information - there's the original story from Dan Primak at Axios, a series of tweets from lead investor and board member Mark Suster, and the statement from uBeam on the company blog. There's also an article on Techcrunch by Josh Constine that recaps some of the history of the company. From the company blog:

Meredith Perry has decided to step down as the day-to-day CEO of uBeam and will assume a role as a senior advisor and an active board member at the company.  Having overseen uBeam from its inception through its development of a functional working product, Meredith felt it was time to bring on a seasoned executive in the electronics field to lead the company through its commercialization phase. The company has begun a search for this new CEO.

The official accounts are very professional, making it clear that it was absolutely the decision of Perry herself to step down, praise for her great ability, and positioning that her stepping aside is actually a new era in the company. A bold step that bodes well for the future! Yeah, right, that'll be why Suster's tweets seem to quietly admit they've abandoned the phone charging thing, which is pretty sad considering they raised $10 to $14 million dollars on that promise less than a year ago, and (by my guess) around $37 million promising over the lifetime of the company.

So let's take much of this in turn - first of all the Perry I thought I knew would never, ever, in my opinion, voluntarily step down from her position in the company. If an interviewee for a senior role ever asked if she might consider stepping into another role in the future as the company grew into a new phase, it appeared to me as if that ended any chance of a job offer, no matter how talented or capable they otherwise were. In describing her role I would hear her talk about "the mission" and her "destiny" to bring wireless power to the world. I always felt that in Perry's mind, she was uBeam, and uBeam was her, and given how much stock I believe she held in the company at least when I was there, legally that was pretty much true.

A "functional working product" made me raise an eyebrow. If they had that, I'm pretty sure an Apple or Google would have taken them off the field by now, and neither would they be moving from "consumer-facing mobile charging to b2b licensing for IoT". A functional working product that could charge a phone at 15 feet and faster than a wire would not be pushed to IoT (Internet of Things), in my opinion. As I've commented in the past, pointing at Energous and Ossia, there's a pattern to the at-a-distance wireless power companies of initial bold claims of producing devices working at multi-meter distances and multi-Watt charging, then to 'trickle charge', then to a licensing model, then to IoT. I would expect at some point investors just don't buy that the 10 to 100mW charging levels under good conditions will work for phones, so the business model shifts to saying IoT because you can make some half-baked argument it'll work, right up until it doesn't. In my opinion, if you want an IoT charging option for distance, that's low cost and been on the market for years, and you only need micro- to low milli-Watt charging, look at Powercast. Basically, what they have works and none of the other options, to me, offer anything better (but some possible big downsides).


Taking a look at uBeam's product roadmap from the last fundraising round, you can see that by now they should have completed multiple new transmitter and receiver designs, licensing deals, and about to start a private beta test, with a product launch starting early next year. I'll just quote Techcrunch here saying "repeatedly missing self-imposed deadlines" and leave it there.

The "begun a search for a new CEO" line is interesting, as normally that line is "and introducing our new CEO" or "long serving COO steps into this role" or similar. Problem is that uBeam has bled senior executives - by my count it's 1 CEO, 1 CFO, 2 CTOs, 2 COOs, and 3 VP Engineering that have departed, and that doesn't include the other staff. The COO who left most recently (according to LinkedIn), around May 2018 after barely 9 months on the job, had an extensive background in IP licensing and would have been perfect for a role to transition to "b2b licensing for IoT". To me, there's a red flag here, if this were well planned out and in a well running company, I'd expect to see a smooth handover to an experienced executive happy to take on the role, and you don't hand it over to the head of HR, no matter how talented they are, they're not the right choice for a tech company looking to do licensing deals.

Next thing that I notice is not what is said, but what is not said. Where's the quote from Perry herself? These releases usually have something from the founder/CEO saying "It's been the honour of my life to grow this company and build this team, but I feel my talents best serve the investors on the board and evangelizing for the company, and I leave it in the capable hands of my successor." but this time - nothing. From Constine's article "TechCrunch spoke to Perry but she declined to comment on the record." is interesting, there wasn't even the prepared one liner to hand out. Nada. Zilch. Nothing... Hmmm.

Update 9/21/18: Perry tweeted a short statement after close of business yesterday, which managed to say very little but was at least professionally written. Still strange this wasn't prepared ahead of time, it's the sort of thing that takes a few minutes to prepare and is standard in this type of situation.
End of update, back to the original post.

So jumped or pushed? I don't know, but this doesn't smell to me like a regular founder transition.

I'll leave this post with a story about my time at uBeam, and specifically my last day at the company, in October 2015. Things had been untenable for some time prior, and I had exhausted every route available in trying to correct what I saw as a terrible situation for myself and the company, all the way to the board. I had been interviewing and things were clearly going well enough that I was prepared to go, and had some upcoming personal events I wanted to attend to.

One meeting in particular pushed me over the edge, and I told the CEO that I was extremely unhappy, and we should discuss a way to amicably separate. I knew the transducer and acoustics side better than anyone, and would give the company as much time as needed to transition and pass over my knowledge. It was a tense meeting, and I went home after, and there were then a series of ... interesting ... emails and phone calls with Perry, that ended with no conclusion. Ironically, among the demands from the company was a statement for the press about how I still believed in uBeam's goals and the technology, but I declined. I got a text the next morning to come to the downstairs company conference room, and to bring my laptop, lab-book, and any company property - it was clear what was about to happen.

I arrived and the room had CFO Hushen and CEO Perry. It was tense, and Perry sat at the head of the table in her position that she used when about to be CEO-like and give a prepared speech - straight back, leaning slighty forward, hands together. She looked at me and said:

"Today will be your last day with the company. But before we go on to that, it is important that you understand that you are a quitter. You have quit on me, you have quit on yourself, you have quit on the company, you have quit on your team, you have quit on.... wait what are you doing?"

At this point the speech was so ridiculous I had picked up my phone to start taking notes because this was too good not to write down. I looked up and she seemed shocked and demanded "Are you texting someone? I'm talking." and I looked at her and said "Just taking some notes." Sadly, this seemed to throw her off, and I never did hear the rest of that prepared speech. She simply mumbled then moved to telling me that I would now give an exit interview, and was again perturbed when I declined. She insisted and the CFO, acting as HR, had to step in and say that wasn't necessary. I handed over my laptop and the few items I had, and made a clear instruction that the company was not to make any statements or quotes that were to be attributed to me - I heard from the team that about ten minutes later they were all told in a company meeting by the CEO that "I wanted them to know that I wished them all the best and success for the company, and still believed in the company mission" or something similar.

The next few weeks were also interesting when it came to the mechanism of departure, but that's another story. So to end this post I'll address Perry herself and say that if you stepped down from your role:

"Today is your last day as CEO of this company. But it is important that you understand that you are a quitter. You have quit on yourself, you have quit on the company, you have quit on your team, you have quit on.... well, you'll have to look at your own notes for who else you quit on.

Oh, and the exit interview is optional."

Meredith Perry No Longer uBeam CEO


Meredith Perry has stepped down as CEO of uBeam, the controversial wireless charging startup she founded in 2011.

uBeam wants to commercialize its technology via licenses to embed it in third-party products, and Perry was not viewed as the right person for that task.

If only someone senior in the company could have told the board and investors that back in 2015...

Perry will remain a "senior advisor" to the company and on its board of directors.

I didn't think that Perry would ever willingly step down, so if I am correct there, this was forced by investors after failing to meet milestones. I'm certainly surprised it happened this early after the last round. More comment as I learn more.

You can find my uBeam posts here and more detailed thoughts on this event in a much longer post.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

It's Dead, Jim - Theranos Edition

Yesterday I posted pointing out the Theranos website was down, and wondered if that meant the company was defunct. Today, the Wall Street Journal confirms - Theranos to dissolve. From the article:

In the wake of a high-profile scandal, the company will formally dissolve, according to an email to shareholders. Theranos will seek to pay unsecured creditors its remaining cash in coming months, the email said. 

Most of Theranos’s two-dozen remaining employees worked their last day on Friday, Aug. 31.

All told, investors in Theranos have lost nearly $1 billion.

I think it's all been said in previous Theranos posts. Nothing more to add really. Now to see what happens in the court cases.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Magic Leap - Product Delivered and Oculus Founder Reaction


In late 2016 I wrote a post on Magic Leap, the company that had raised billions of dollars for its Augmented Reality (AR) product, which they promised would be so far beyond anything else it would be like magic. Journalists fawned over them, willingly signing NDAs just to get a peak and then allow the company to decide what they can say (hint: if a journalist admits they signed an NDA with the company they are covering, they are simply, IMO, a stenographer and mouthpiece for PR whitewashing). It was amazing, and we had wonderful insights into the amazing character of the founder Rony Abovitz, and learned that he met Beaker from the Muppets, a factoid so compelling it could be used 18 months later to fill column inches and avoid talking about the technology and failure to deliver.

By the end of 2016 a lot of questions were starting to be raised about the extent of their promises, and that videos they had claimed were actual AR turned out to be more a rendered version and not truly representative of what would be seen by a user. The company got very defensive, understandably, and the CEO put out a statement that users would get an experience "powered by unicorns and rainbows" (It looks like that blog post has been taken down, but excerpts are here).

The usual cohort of big-company defenders sprang into life, proclaiming that hardware is hard (Is it? Really? Thanks for that, never would have guessed), those criticizing don't understand, to have faith (Faith? This isn't a sports team or deity, it's a technical product and business) etc. I'm sure the oft-quoted "Man in the Arena" speech was used to silence those who dared question. I've never quite understood why individuals leap to the defense of multi-billion dollar companies (yes, I did it here with Verily, my point being not to defend the company but to try and point out the difference between doomed "Mars Shots" held up as fait-accompli and difficult but achievable "Moon Shots" that are honestly explained) As usual, they focused on the "they are trying, you shouldn't be mean, what are you doing?" As an example:

"I don't get why we live to shoot down people who try something new and ambitious. Why we get this urge to say 'No.  Stop. You can't be good.' Why we jump on them as soon as we see a chink in their armour and are proud of ourselves for it...

We should be praising companies and people that try. Especially new companies that want to break the Google/Apple/Microsoft mold we are currently trapped in. We should celebrate their success and encourage them when they struggle. We should acknowledge that ambitious things are hard and not expect too much of them (something I am certainly guilty of)."

Yeah - it would be nice if they acknowledged these things are hard to the point of being decades away upfront and not lie about what they have already achieved. That's the thing about lying to people, they tend not to like or trust you when they find out. It's a natural reaction...

Anyway - it's nearly two years later and Magic Leap are finally releasing a product, their Magic Leap Creator One, and for $2300 you can get the package with the eyewear (Lightwear), the portable/wearable computer/GPU that drives it (Lightpack), and the handheld controller. Along with the $500 "professional development package" this is broadly the same price range as the Microsoft Hololens, their AR offering, which came out 2 years ago. Various tech media have reviewed it and given it a resounding shoulder-shrug, and mostly "Meh, nice start, might be awesome in the next version though". I'd love to review it myself, with a more technical eye, but quite frankly I'm not going to pony up $3k for the privilege. Fortunately, someone with a lot more understanding of the in-and-outs of VR and AR has already done this.

Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR (now Facebook's VR company), has weighed in with his review, and it's hardly full of praise. Now as the founder of a rival company, there is room for skepticism, but read the review for yourself, it's pretty clear about the concerns, where it succeeds, and where it doesn't. To briefly summarize his views:

  • Motion tracking method is a poor technical choice that causes issues, worse than competition
  • Controllers are hefty and not ergonomic, depart from industry norms
  • Lightpack is well designed and built
  • Lightwear visual quality does not live up to the PR expectations
  • OS is on a par with an Android watch, no more
  • The only rainbows are artifacts in the visual field

There's an explanation for each of his points, it's well reasoned. He praises them where they deserve, and it seems at the end had it not been for the ridiculous PR and billion dollar funding the response might have been "Nice first shot, a little better than the Hololens, great to see some competition".

Luckey makes points beyond the technical though, and that's really the bit I want to concentrate on as it's part of the larger picture of tech funding and tech media coverage. He shows this image that was used by Magic Leap in promotion of their tech, and comments on it.


"Above is a telling picture from a piece Magic Leap did with Wired magazine a couple years ago, back when they were still hyping up scanning fiber displays.  See the fancy-looking, high-tech light up  strands?  They don’t do anything.  It is just electro-luminescent wire.  It looks great to casual observers, but does not hold up to any kind of scrutiny from people who are in the know."

Basically, you're being lied to. Shiny things and glitter are supposed to make you say "ooh" and "aah" and think it looks cool. But there is a more insidious side to this, as once you are invested in liking it, thinking it's awesome, when an expert comes along and rubbishes it, you take it personally. Like the victim of a con, rather than admitting you were duped, you double down and take the side of the conman. From then on, you are a member of a "tribe" and it becomes "us against them", the "believers vs the heretics" and it's no longer about the tech or the business, but about belief. You're far enough in the hole you're just going to keep digging. Once you're there, there is no amount of data or evidence that will budge some of these people. Look at Tim Draper even after Theranos has been proved to be a fraud, he's still claiming it was just because a journalist and the government were out to get the CEO.

There are other, invisible, costs to this type of hyped startup. To quote from Luckey's post:

"Their current offering is a tragedy in the classical sense, even more so when you consider how their massive funding and carefully crafted hype sucked all the air out of the room in the AR space... It does not deliver on almost any of the promises that allowed them to monopolize funding in the AR investment community."

This echoes a point I have been making in this blog over the last couple of years - certain companies like Theranos or Magic Leap come to the table with bold claims of advancements vastly beyond what anyone else offers, with "Star Trek" levels of capability. Their charismatic founder gets puff-pieces in the tech press, with little scrutiny of the actual technology - which, of course, is a closely guarded secret you can't be allowed to see. They get huge amounts of funding, and the common wisdom quickly becomes "They've already won, how could you compete with them?" Theranos are clearly in the realm of fraud, Magic Leap perhaps is more "extreme exaggeration", but the chilling effect on entrepreneur funding is the same at the outset.

To quote from my last Magic Leap post:

"It creates the standard by which all other companies now must be compared. Imagine you've a small company with solid VR technology that actually works and can be delivered as a product, but when you present it to a VC you're told "Magic Leap already beats that - I won't invest, there's no market". Because you are honest, you don't get funding and your company never takes off, we as the public don't get the benefit of that technology, and the VC's investors (like pension funds) don't get the benefit of the profits. Worse, it encourages the less-than-honest founder to "exaggerate" capabilities and exacerbates the problem. As a society we all lose from this."

And this is the key for me - on the one hand you can't blame a company for putting the best spin they can on what they have, it helps with fundraising and recruitment, and harms potential competition - however there is no excuse for the tech media (at least the ones who claim to be reporters and not in it for page clicks alone) to enable this, nor for institutional investors to fund in a way that encourages the less-than-honest (or above-average delusional).

Perhaps a worse outcome is that when the over-promised thing under-delivers (or delivers fraud), it taints the entire sector for investors and potential employees alike Sure, Magic Leap finally got a product out, but it's was a resounding "meh" and with $2 billion in funding, you really have to work to screw up one delivering something. But what if that something is a negative for the industry overall? As Luckey says "That is not good for the XR industry."

How many advances have we lost because media and investors allowed the PR departments of companies to bamboozle both us and them into ignoring a small but capable and honest company? If you're in engineering, you know of many people working on great technologies that struggle to raise because they just don't lie, or are better at the tech than the pitching. It still confuses me that professional investors heavily bias their selection towards the well-connected, gifted presenters and fundraisers, rather than those with the actual capability to deliver a realistic if bold vision.

Is It Dead Yet? - Theranos Edition

A reader points out that the Theranos website can no longer be reached, it looks like it has been taken down. They had indicated they may be out of money (at least the minimum to meet contractual requirements) by the end of July. 

So is it finally an ex-Theranos? Most likely, yes it is.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Startup PR 101: Planting Stories and Gaming Data

Given the name of this blog, it's hardly surprising that I spend time talking about how misleading PR from any company can be. Most of the time I don't blame marketing for pushing the best possible narrative they can get, if the product is pretty meaningless and it's really on the press, investors, and public to look at it with a skeptical eye - which sadly is a pretty rare event. Where it gets shady is when the marketing "white-washes" their desired story through a third party, often media looking for the next scoop, to be able to pretend it isn't them making these bold claims, but rather a neutral bystander. Where it gets illegal and immoral is when "facts" are simply fabricated and planted in the media, especially if it's during fundraising or for the purpose of manipulating company share price or valuation. Most of it is pretty blatant, and when you see it up close and personal, it's amazing how easily people fall for it, or even how company "fanboys" evangelize based on this and will not hear otherwise from "heretics". 

While there is a pretty high profile case of this out there right now, since so many column inches are already spent on it, I thought I'd highlight this technique using a recent tweet from VC Josh Wolfe of Lux Capital. For those of you who don't already, I'd recommend following him, he has a lot of very interesting posts and insights that are worth reading. Here's the start of it, the fully unrolled version is at the base of this post

The basic premise is this - 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.

Is this OK? He didn't really lie, no-one asked him for corroborating evidence, so it mostly falls into the realm of "amusing anecdote".  As the author say "This kind of stuff happens ALL THE TIME" and it's pointless to try to stop it in most cases - press just need to be more careful and the public need to be more skeptical. When the stakes get higher such as with safety, or actual investment, then it's much harder to turn a blind eye to this - if investment was raised based heavily on this, and while specifically quoting that statistic, that is moving towards the illegal.

When it starts to matter is something of a grey area, but sometimes it's just pretty damn clear. Let's take WorldCom, a telecommunications and internet backbone company from the original dot-com era around 20 years ago. By the late 1990's they were claiming that internet usage was growing at 1000% per year, and this widely quoted (though rarely challenged) statistic drove (mal)investment in many other companies. A readable story on this can be found in an industry publication, but to quote from a 2003 Yale Journal on Regulation article:

WorldCom’s false Internet traffic reports and accounting fraud encouraged overinvestment in long-distance capacity and Internet backbone capacity. Because Internet traffic data are proprietary and WorldCom dominated Internet backbone services, and because WorldCom was subject to regulatory oversight, it was reasonable for rival carriers to believe WorldCom’s misrepresentation of Internet traffic growth. WorldCom’s accounting fraud may have destroyed billions of dollars of shareholder value in other telecommunications firms. 

How did this statistic get justified? From the industry publication, Light Reading:

Here's how it worked, according to the former WorldCom employee: WorldCom would hook up new customers with connections capable of handling, say, up to 1.5 Mbit/s of data, knowing that for most of the time the lines would only carry a fraction of this amount. WorldCom would then use the 1.5 Mbit/s figures, not the actual traffic figures, when citing Internet traffic growth statistics...

"The myth of Internet traffic doubling every 100 days seemed to be based on (i) the fact that such growth rates really did hold during the two-year period 1995-1996, and (ii) WorldCom making misleading claims in subsequent years,” 

So like the Red Hat founder, the numbers were essentially made up, and the laziness of readers and media taken advantage of. In this case, that the company was FCC regulated gave the misleading data a stamp of approval it otherwise would not have had - something that 20 years later other technology companies like Energous remember. Now some did call this out, for example here in this 1999 report from AT&T Labs:

"The growth rate of traffic on the public Internet, while lower than is often cited, is still about 100% per year... these claims can be correct only if something unusual is happening to the WorldCom network... Reports, which claim 1,000% growth rates for the Internet, appear to be inaccurate today..."

but no-one listened to the sensible data and fact driven analysis because it wasn't so exciting (I feel their pain). In the end the con at WorldCom, which extended into accounting and beyond just exaggerated PR, resulted in bankruptcy and eventual purchase at a fire-sale price by Verizon. The CEO, Bernie Ebbers, was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy and was sentenced to 25 years in jail (if you're wondering why a white collar crime got punished, see the "may have destroyed billions of dollars of shareholder value" quote above). I do wonder if the willingness of a company to be lax with the truth on smaller details like PR is a more public sign of a willingness to push the limits in accounting and other areas.

Why does this matter? In this case, WorldCom data pushed investment by the public in an area that ended up oversupplied, and when the crash came (it was a dot-com and telecommunications crash back in 2001, not just dot-com) it caused great pain for companies and employees that had to find new businesses and jobs - and to re-re-quote "may have destroyed billions of dollars of shareholder value". Companies in other areas that may have been more viable in the long term didn't get funded, and what they could have done either lost or delayed. Mal-investment has an invisible cost in what doesn't happen, and in the loss of trust in the system. In the end, the system (kinda) worked, but if this had been caught earlier then that pain for others could have been avoided.

What's even more hilarious is when you get two companies in the same industry trying to out-compete each other this way on stats, covering performance that neither can actually achieve. It's like setting two mirrors facing one another, it just reflects off each other into infinity, and ridiculousness. From another post on companies playing the media:

In the past, I've sat inside a company watching the CEO engage in a war of fantasy performance stats and delivery dates with a competing vaporware company, using the tech press to launch salvos of ever increasing capabilities. When the enemy returned fire with a further 'improved' product, there was panic at the top and demands made to engineering that our product get better or timelines be shortened - statements from those trying to be rational, such as "No. Their numbers are just as made up as ours.", garnered a mix of confused and annoyed looks.

Neither company has, to my knowledge, released a product since then and in part this is connected to these inflated performance promises. (And two years later, as of August 2018, still hasn't happened)

So when you read something in the media that seems to be too good to be true, remember that it might be that "truth isn't truth".


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Mailbag: Questions on Energous

I've been asked some questions on Energous and my recent posts, and rather than answer in the slightly-annoying-to-reply-in comments section here, or in private email, I thought I'd just answer them as a post in themselves. Nothing startlingly new here, for those who have read my prior posts, except for one thing. In the earnings call, CEO Rizzone talked about devices at the 5 to 15 Watts level, previously they'd claimed up to 5 Watts and 15 feet, so if he truly meant Watts, that's quite a bold new claim.

1) Has Energous implicitly conceded it cannot generate significant charging power in the near field, ergo its new focus on tertiary products?

I'll start with the most important point - this company has no products, and in my opinion, never will. To say otherwise is to play their game. Everything is turned on its head compared to other companies, all IMO of course. If the thinking of most of Energous' detractors is correct, the goal is not to release a product but to maintain interest in share purchase by large institutions, not to develop technology but to offer the fantasy of safe at-distance wireless charging, that marketing is the true innovation and money earner in the company, and engineering R&D is simply the necessary expense to maintain the illusion it's about products and technology. In summary, it's a very well run marketing company with large R&D expenses that is successfully extracting millions of dollars a year for the insiders.

Now to the 'technology'. I'm going to start covering the 'at a distance' application - basically the non-contact version, since I'm not sure you meant "near field" when you said "near field", and there are multiple definitions of that term being used. In physics terms, near-field and far-field refer to the regions of interference from radiation emitters. In simple terms near-field is close to the emitters where the field varies extensively (it's bumpy) while further out in the far-field it varies inversely with distance (it's smooth) - the image below from Wikipedia shows this. Where this transition happens is relative to the size of the transmitter and the wavelength of the radiation.


So for Energous there is the "contact" version of their charger, the "miniWattUp", which they position as a competitor to Qi, except it's less efficient, slower at charging, has no existing infrastructure, and isn't available (there are multiple product announcements that never make it to market, such as with Myant). Then they have the claim of "at-distance" charging, such as the "long range" device they've been promising for years at 15 feet and up to 5 Watts (now 15 Watts apparently), and the FCC Part 18 approved "mid range" device that will send at best 30 mW at 0.9 meters to a single device, requires a safety cutoff, and also isn't available.

I'm also careless with the use of the terms here, so in part I'm writing this to force myself to be more consistent - the confusion from Energous I think is deliberate, as it helps them with allowing the public to think whatever they want of the technology, rather than making them see it as it is.

Now to actually answering the question:

Energous seem to be careful not to bluntly lie, but let ignorance and laziness of press and investors do the work for them in drawing incorrect conclusions they want from what is said. For years they hinted about a "Tier One" they had a deal with, that they did everything bar say was Apple, until they finally had to give up on that one following AirPower last year - there's a post on some of that here. They deliberately confuse everyone by talking about "WattUp" which is a branding term for all their "products" such as the contact, mid, and far range devices. They also give demonstrations of products that are not FCC approved and exceed the SAR limits to get higher power levels and have people associate with the approved products. I cover some of that here.

In summer 2017 the CEO was already dialing back expectations in specific statements:

“As long as you’re in that 15-foot range, you’ll be charging. Small, small amount of energy. It’s not charging super fast, like you would be plugged in the wall, but a small amount of energy, trickle charging it. And as you put it down closer or farther away, the amount of power changes.”

I cover my opinion of the journalism that let him get away with that statement and no follow up here.

Rizzone says this again in January this year, in a Barron's article

As for five watts, “I don’t see it happening at 15 or 18 feet,” concedes Rizzone. More likely, he thinks Energous will be shipping at the end of 2019 systems that can charge devices such as wearables and smartphones at that distance, but perhaps only with a watt or two, perhaps only hundreds of milliwatts. 

Despite these statements, Rizzone makes claims in the earnings call this month that would lead people to believe 5 to 15 Watts charging is coming. It's no wonder people are still thinking that somehow you'll be charging at the same rate as a wire from the wall. If Energous ever end up in court on fraud claims, they can point to this and say "See, in major interviews we said it was a trickle charge, we never lied, they just interpreted it another way"

Regarding the contact version - The FCC reports for the latest contact device, the 2ADNG-NF130, shows two antenna each able to transmit just shy of 1 Watt. I assume they are at 90 degrees to one another to try to improve performance with receiver position. Given Qi charges at 5 to 7.5W there is literally no way, even at 100% efficiency, for this method to challenge the established market leader. FCC documents show this system charges at a maximum of 300 mW, so a tiny fraction of what is needed, and at no more than about 15% efficiency (Qi is usually 70%ish).

Now does anyone think that the far range transmitter is going to be better than one that's in contact?

So to answer the first question - they seem to almost deliberately confuse terms like feet and Watts, and give differing statements at different times. When Energous have no choice, or are on the record, they downplay performance and obfuscate. They have to know it won't work at the multi-watt level, there is no question there, but what can they badger the FCC into allowing, especially as it seems they have contacts at the top like Chairman Ajit Pai willing to break the normal rules for them. They have to keep this gravy train going for as long as they can, so let the rubes think the next great release is 18 months out perpetually. One thing I'll give to Energous, they are geniuses at how to milk this market.

Next question:

2) Given your assessment of its RF based technology and its limitations re SAR compliance, what could the basis be for Rizzone's claim on the call of achieving 5 to 15 watts for midfield?

Now let's get the first thing out the way - as with all at-a-distance wireless power transfer - is sending 5 to 15 Watts possible? Yes, of course it is. But you do not want to be anywhere near that thing, as it will be hideously dangerous to anyone around, and highly inefficient. So it is possible, just not in any vague sense practical or within SAR limits.

So in the real world, the basis is 'None'. It was always fantasy. This is like me claiming I can run a 3 minute mile, but I just need to train harder and I'll soon get there, maybe another 18 months... Now Energous claimed the 15 feet for the "far range" device in Jan 2015, to my knowledge this is the first time anyone has ever claimed 15 Watts for Energous. Either a slipup by the CEO, or a sudden increase in performance for this so-far nonexistent technology.

The "mid range" device was the one that got Part 18 approval last December, and only goes to ~100mW max, 0.9 meters max, at safety limits, so why would they be able to charge >50x faster at longer ranges? See the quote above where they admit it's less than a wall charger, so not even 5 Watts. Yes, Energous are inconsistent, but that helps them, confusion benefits their message as most people give up.

Looking at the physics, I don't think there's a practical combination of size and safety that results in an even vaguely useful amount of power received (impractical, maybe). That doesn't mean that they won't keep this deception going IMO, and pretend something ridiculous that games the system is coming and will have the fanboys salivating - but in any practical sense it will be pointless. Now, here's what he said in the call:

We expect to see the full impact of this next generation of chips towards the middle of next year, when we anticipate the first product releases to the consumer using our high power WattUp technology for quick charging and applications requiring 5 to 15 watts of charging power.

So that's just not going to happen. It's a year out, minimum, same as all their claims, then it's for applications that require 5 to 15 Watts, he doesn't say they'll actually provide it. Maybe the chips will do 5 to 15 Watts, but the antenna and rest of the system won't. This is definitely a "hopeful" statement and probably can be justified because they keep asking the FCC to approve their 5 to 15 Watt (feet?) device and keep getting told 'No, not safe'. I expect as the end gets closer, the statements will get a little riskier and them less careful about blatantly lying (see recent statements by CEOs of well known tech companies for examples...)

Next question:

3) It seems odd that Dialog would highlight its relationship among others with Energous in its latest press release. Merely justifying its investment and partnership seems unlikely to be the only reason; isn't there something material the partnership could realistically produce?

Yeah. Dialog. No one gets why they did this. I liken them to Safeway and Walgreens with Theranos, where stupidity at the CEO level over-rode all internal advice. They had warned it was possible they were going to lose some of Apple's business, and perhaps were desperate for a 'must have' technology to replace and got suckered, or maybe they knew it was a scam and after the share price hike got their money back out at a profit (looking at their quarterly reports, I don't think they did). I have no idea, it might be a great business school case study when this is all over. As for their statements, note that they make no press releases on Energous since January, and in quarterly reports they say the minimum they can and still be compliant with disclosure rules. This is not a relationship they want to promote right now.

Overall with Dialog I'd say "Stop trying to apply logic and sense to this decision, it's not there". Anyone who has worked in large businesses knows that even when there is a ton of money on the line, what the coal-face workers know are dumb-assed decisions still get made.

4) What do you see Energous doing next?

I see them continuing what they've been doing for the last few years, until the market or the SEC says they can't. What does this mean? Basically, gaming the system and abusing the poor diligence of both investors and press, to raise money from a hopeful public. If I had no scruples, what I'd do is try to find a way to weasel around the FCC rules on Part 18 on my long distance charging to get something that sends 10's of mW over 2 to 3 meters. Perhaps something impossibly large, say a 1 to 2m square array, to keep the W/kg down for SAR, and pushing the far-field boundary out for 'contained' energy. Maybe a safety cutoff variable with charge rate so at any useful rates no-one can be in the room, and if they can it charges at the sub-mW level, but the press and public will not understand that. It would be utterly useless and impractical, something that would never be viable as a product, but the press and investors will believe, because they have no idea what's actually just happened. (Alternatively, I'd get it approved under Part 15 at the sub mW level and then claim Part 18 is coming). Products will be announced for 18 months out, and that they've decided to cancel the contact and mid-range products to concentrate on the long range one, hence managing to excuse how they failed to deliver upon promised products.

At that point, stock price will spike, and they'll a) have the insiders sell their current holdings, b) raise more capital via stock, up to $75 million at the boosted price, to keep this thing going another couple of years, and c) reward themselves with more stock and bonuses. IIRC the CEO gets large bonuses if the market cap spikes beyond $1 billion (a $38.70 stock price assuming no more dilution). We may then see a company with a market cap of >$1 billion, with no products, and revenues in the high 5, low 6 figure range.

Basically, expect something to happen to goose the stock price. This trick worked last year, why not do it again? When someone is rewarded for a set of actions, they are incentivized to repeat. In the end, this stock is going to zero, IMO, but that doesn't mean it's not going to be a rollercoaster until then.

(Repeating the seemingly obligatory statement - I have no financial position, short or long, in Energous or any related company)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Energous Raising $75 Million?

In addition to their standard 10-QEnergous submitted a Form S-3 today, indicating that they are looking to sell up to $75 million of equity in the company, coming barely 6 months after their earlier $40 million raise (from a 2015 S-3 and then an amendment in January 2018). With $37m in the bank as of last month, and a burn rate of near $13m a quarter and statements they will increase R&D spend, I had guessed they'd be raising soon but thought it might be nearer the end of the year. It seems they think now's the right time, perhaps before negative press catches up with them and sours the public. They do not have to raise all this at once, it can be done over time, but given they've set the price at $14.05 I expect much will be done soon.

This likely gives the company another 5 to 6 quarters of operation, which in conjunction with cash in the bank will keep them going until mid 2020. Given that around $4m of equity based compensation goes to the team per quarter, that's another $32m or so of extra cash in their pockets.

Interestingly this comes just after I heard reports of the CFO presenting at Oppenheimer, and apparently he was awful - weak, unenthusiastic, and got ripped to pieces by multiple tough questions after his talk. At least Rizzone is enthusiastic about what he's doing!

A few days ago the company indicated it had revenues of $200,000 per quarter and its major product release was still 18 months out. The 10-Q shows they have debts of just short of $200m to get to this point. Hardly compelling for a company with a $350m market cap.

Last time Raymond James acted as distibutor and made $1,000,000 from the sale (2.5%). Who's making the money this time around? The gravy train keeps rolling for at least another two years...


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Energous Finally Questioned On Continuous Delays and Poor Performance on Earnings Call


You have no revenues and it’s been quarter-after-quarter and you're not doing any business, so why don’t you just come out and say it’s not working?


Every quarter Energous does their earnings call as publicly traded companies do. And every quarter they talk about the great future, and Wireless Power 2.0 (now at Phase 3.0!), and how next year is the breakout year, and the great game changing product is only 18 months away, perpetually. And after that, the four analysts that are selected each ask a rather boring question, ignoring things like low revenues, excessive executive compensation, departing founders, and missed product deadlines which the CEO gives a bland answer to, and we thank everyone and end the call.

But not this time.

Before we get to that, just a few highlights from the call - you can read the full thing here on Seeking Alpha, or listen to it here, start at 42m 00s for the interesting part.

  • They claim the long range transmitter will be out H1 2020. Time to carrot - 18 months. Again.
  • They claim a product release - near field charging for hearing aids. It'll be out in 90 days. Promise. Will they beat the Myant release...
  • Revenue is up from $25,000 last quarter to $206,000. That's split between services and royalties, they declined to give the split when questioned, so my guess $200k and $6k respectively. If it was big royalties they'd say. This is a company with a $350m market cap.
  • Expenses $12.5m per quarter (61x revenue), with $37.1m in the bank - fundraise needed by Q1 2019
  • Working to get regulatory approval with their Tier One partner in South Korea (Samsung?)
  • Admits their first generation product failed for every single Tier One customer, and this has left a "bad taste in the number of our customer's mouth" (was referencing inductive charging such as Qi, although I think they will be even less enthused about Energous...)

It was the usual ridiculous call, with the CEO and CFO putting lipstick on a pig and everyone else pretending it's a supermodel. Then we get the question from Matthew Winthrop of Aegis Capital Corp.

Matthew Winthrop (Caller) I’m curious on the hearing-aid business because my father was an audiologist and he tells me that you need to keep your hearing aid next to you in a very closed environment that doesn't get any dust or particles. So, I don't understand why you would need a wireless charge system when you have two plug it in right next to your bed? I’m confused.

Steve Rizzone (Energous CEO) Well, perhaps I can help you. Since your father has had experience with the hearing-aid, I am sure you’ve also seen him go through the process of changing these batteries. He has probably dropped one on the floor on more than one occasion.

Now I'm sure at this point the CEO felt he'd given his usual placating answer and it would be time to move on, but Winthrop wasn't having any of it.

Matthew Winthrop ... So, I don't understand, you came out here, got everyone into this, and told us we were going to charge cell phones and Teslas, and now you're telling we're going to do hearing-aids, sorry I know you are the CEO, but you got the whole world watching. You did a couple of hundred thousand of revenue, you have been putting this of quarter-after-quarter, how can you look at people in the eye and say, we're going to be huge, you’re not. You are just coming up and dancing with new products. Show me something, one company, one contract, something I can hang my hat on. I just don't understand what you’re doing.

Steve Rizzone Well, I respect your comments, but you’re wrong. And I think that the way you’re approaching this is incorrect also. I think you need to keep in mind the scope of what we’re looking to do. We are actively…

Unimpressed with this attempt to dodge and run out the clock, Winthrop interrupts Rizzone:

Matthew Winthrop (Exasperated) You have no revenues and it’s been quarter-after-quarter and you're not doing any business, so why don’t you just come out and say it’s not working?

Rizzone then gives a lengthy non-answer answer (he talks about a very clear, undeniable fact, but never says what it is...), talking over the top of Winthrop, claims they have not lied or been misleading - always a good sign when the CEO has to deny they're a fraud on a public earnings call -  and the call is ended.

So, finally, someone 'respectable' is pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, that they've been claiming monster specs and delivering little, that it's a constant push out, and that the revenues don't match the expenses. Importantly they are doing it on an earnings call, a matter of record now.

A questioner on their earnings call tells them to just give him something solid, or admit that it doesn't work as claimed, and they couldn't give that solid response. A dissembling, rambling, politician reply.

Finally. Let's see if it's the start of something. It will be interesting to watch any impact on the share price tomorrow.

Update Aug 2nd - It had a pretty significant effect on the share price, in the first few hours it's down ~20%

Monday, July 30, 2018

More Clarity from New Energous FOIA Documents

One of the pleasures of writing this blog is in the communications with engineers and scientists who are experts in their respective fields, and I get to learn from private email discussions, or have a great sounding board to bounce theories back and forth with. Following my recent posts on the Energous FOIA documents, one contributing reader let me know they had also directly requested those documents on Energous, and received a batch of redacted emails that had some new ones not in the collection that had been previously available, which led to some interesting exchanges - so thank you for that.

These documents cover an earlier time period from December 2014 to March 2017, with at least one of the email threads having a full year gap in the middle. Those of you who would like to see the new documents in full, email me and I'll send them, or you can contact the FCC yourself and say "I ask for the responsive records for FOIA 2018-000342", and start with the FCC FOIA page here.

There are no stunning technical revelations in here, but there are some key points from earlier that seem to be confirmed. For those who don't want to read the details, the main takeaways are that:
  • Switch from 5.75 GHz to 915 MHz seems to have happened late summer 2016
  • The "local" RF power issue to get Part 18 seems to be resolved in Oct/Nov 2016
  • Reduction of power at receiver to well below 1 Watt seems to happen at end of 2016
  • Explicit admission of single device charging occurs in early 2017

These four items combined are likely to have a significant impact on the practicality of the device - huge "pockets" of energy and poor steering, highly limited operating range, delivered power below useful levels for most devices, and only one device at any time. The entire system was on shaky ground to begin with, IMO, and these changes made what I would consider a terrible product far, far worse. In future posts I may compare the dates of these changes, that have quite an impact, with statements from Energous at the time. A publicly traded company must be very careful in what it tells the public.

"Throw it at the wall and see what sticks"
I guessed that Energous were just refiling applications again and again, each time making what minimal changes they thought might get them through, and relying on the FCC to guide them in changes, or perhaps simply to give up and so win through attrition. These documents seem to reinforce that with five face-to-face meetings between June 2016 and March 2017, and nine OET Submissions between August 2016 and March 2017. If we look at the times they submitted, there are some key changes at various dates. Unlike most situations where a company has a product that has to meet minimum specs to satisfy customer demand, it's obvious that there is no aspect of the design that will not be sacrificed in order to get Part 18 approval, no matter how pointless the resulting 'product' is. I list the physical meetings and OET submissions at the base of this article. Key changes are:
  • 5.75 GHz to 915 MHz change occurred between June 23rd 2016 (experimental licence) and October 17th 2016 (Document 59)
  • Part 18 "Unlimited Power" appears to have been resolved between October 17th 2016 (Doc 59) and November 8th 2016 (Doc 58), possibly at the October 26th face-to-face meeting. "Local" and "unconstrained" RF energy issues do not arise anymore. Note this does not resolve safety issues, such as SAR
  • Two Receivers Down to One happens between August 23rd 2016 (Doc 61) and December 12th 2016 (Doc 56). No reason given, perhaps complex SAR measurements
  • Drop Below 1 Watt Charging Claim happens between August 23rd 2016 (Doc 61) and (likely) December 12th 2016 (Doc 56) or (definitively) March 28th 2017 (Doc 5)
  • Change from 10 Antenna to 12 happens between December 12th 2016 (Doc 56) and February 26th 2017 (Doc 1)
  • Change from Sound Bar to Angled Sound Bar happens between December 12th 2016 (Doc 56) and February 26th 2017 (Doc 1). May just be a description change, but coincides with # of antenna change. Energous still demonstrating 'abandoned' straight bar as of January and June 2017.
  • Change to Charging a Single Device is in February 26th 2017 (Doc 1), although it was obvious even in earlier submissions this was likely. May be a move to "time sharing" charging multiple devices, reducing already low charge rate to each

No significant changes seem to have occurred between March 2017 and approval in December 2017, which surprised me as the system and performance were so basic that I thought they had to have rushed it, but it seems they had most of a year.

Given the above, it doesn't appear that the change to 915 MHz, at least by itself, fixed the Part 18 issues as that change had occurred by October 17th 2016, while Part 18 questions were still being asked. It could be that the change occurred and it just took time to get that accepted as sufficient for Part 18, or it could also mean that they still had not satisfied SAR safety and did not start lowering the power output until December 2016/March 2017. This also means that Energous knew the mid-range transmitter would be incompatible with the higher frequency mini-WattUp, or have 1 Watt charging, while promoting licencing deals with the likes of Myant. I wonder if Myant knew?

The most important change that allowed for Part 18 approval seems confirmed now to be the requirement for "local" RF energy, and that such energy is never "uncontained". I've suggested this may restrict any such system from working in the far field (which for an array this size is around 1 meter at 915 MHz), but may also be restricting the system from working in the near field where there are multiple "pockets of energy". This would then be a second need for the safety cutoff system that prevents SAR limits being exceeded. If this is the case, even without SAR limits the system would be constrained to the 50 cm to 1 m range it currently is, and makes questionable the claims of Energous' CEO that power limits could be raised by extending this keep-out zone.

This gives a possible explanation as to why 5.75 GHz was not used (beyond the simple FCC statement of "no destroying WiFi"), as the far-field boundary moves much further out and the "pocket" of energy gets smaller in theory - that any close in operation that would be needed would be in the near field with many maxima and minima, with potential for further maxima beyond the charging location. Either that or such a system would require too many antenna and electronics too precise for Energous to want/be able to build. There's still not enough information to resolve this question, but more pieces are beginning to fall into place.

If that's the case, it doesn't bode too well for Ossia, who recently claimed a shift to 5.8 GHz. While they have a 2D array and can probably dynamically alter the transmit aperture, say to a 30x30 cm square for a 1 meter far field. There would be a pretty reasonable number of elements in that, assuming 1/3 wavelength pitch (around 17 by 17, or ~300). Quite how they overcome the SAR and safety issue and still get reasonable energy out, I'm not sure - I still only see this working for IoT devices at exceptionally low power. Searching on the FCC website though, I can't find grantee code for Ossia - it's as if they've never interacted with the FCC on product regulation at all. Does anyone know what their FCC grantee code is?

So the outcome of this is more clarity that Energous were simply doing whatever it takes to get Part 18 approval, even if it were a product that failed to meet their original claims, and some visibility into the methods they used to slowly reduce capability, or wear down the FCC, until it was finally allowed. The "local" RF energy question seems to have been answered by placing severe restrictions on the usable range, while safety was met by reducing power again and again, retesting until it finally passed. Little by little, we're learning more about how this process was playing out in the background. I'm looking forward to the next set of revelations to narrow down what's really going on.

Oh, and Energous earnings tomorrow - odds on this ~$400m market cap company earning more than $25,000 this quarter? (My mistake, earnings at the end of Wednesday, not Tuesday! And boy was it an interesting call.)

(Repeating the seemingly obligatory statement - I have no financial position, short or long, in Energous or any related company)


Below is a simply a summary of meetings and submissions to the FCC by Energous on their mid-range device. This is not intended, or likely, to be complete, just what is known at this time. I'll update with other information later.

Physical Meetings
  • 8/9th June 2016 (experimental licence application)
  • 27th July 2016 (Doc 61)
  • 26th October 2016 (Doc 55)
  • 6th December 2016 (Doc 54)
  • 28th Feb 2017 (Doc 3)

Office Engineering and Technology (OET) Response Submissions
  • 23rd August 2016 (Doc 61) - Still not clear that Part 18 is achievable, and claims a second receiver at 1 Watt. To get Part 18, repeatedly references "local" RF energy. Two receivers listed, one at 100 mW, one at 1 Watt - last mention of two receivers or 1 Watt. Power reported as "Number Receivers Supported: Rx-1: 100mW, Rx-2: 1W", No indication if these two receivers were on the same device, or could be separate, I expect a single device. Lists a sensor needed for SAR compliance.
  • 17th October 2016 (Doc 59) - Earliest mention of the 913 MHz band in available documents. Ongoing discussion of viability of Part 18 with it clearly critical that energy be assured to be "local" and can never be "uncontained". Also see page 2
  • 8th November 2016 (Doc 58) - All Part 18 discussion is dropped following Oct 26th meeting. It is never raised again in future documents. Part 18 "local" and "unconstrained" issues solved?
  • 30th November 2016 (Doc 55, Page 4) refers to an OET Response on this date but not available
  • 10th December 2016 (Doc 57) refers to meeting of Oct 26 and not Dec 6. Appears Energous want OET to develop new safety criteria for them. Jeff McNeil of Energous adds "Regulatory" to his SVP Ops title.
  • 12th December 2016 (Doc 56) refers to Dec 6th meeting. FCC requests clarity on which of the many designs will be submitted. Table 1 lists 10 antenna and "Target Platforms: Sound bar for desktop usage". Power now reported as "Cumulative Receive Power at 30 cm and 1m: [Redacted]". Use case claims "charging multiple devices", but admits to one device at a time.
  • 18th December 2016 (Doc 55) FCC request a different method of calculating SAR and measure individual antenna
  • 26th February 2017 (Doc 1) Table 1 lists 12 antenna and "Target Platforms: Angled Sound Bar for desktop usage". If an actual change, a limit on phase array capability to focus? Number of antenna and description change. Use case now admits "charging single device"
  • 28th March 2017 (Doc 5) - FCC still asking for single clear submission

Experimental Licence Application
  • To demonstrate the technology to FCC, a 15 day experimental licence was applied for , starting June 8th 2016 for 15 days. Application is here. The details of this can be found at the FCC site here, and clearly show still operating at 5.8 GHz, with 20.4 Watts output (55.6 W ERP). Energous' next such application was for 6 days, between 6th and 12th January this year for  CES, which listed the 913 MHz band with 30 W ERP. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Energous FCC FOIA Docs

I had a chance to go through the FCC/Energous FOIA documents mentioned in my last blog post. They span a period from around February to December 2017 when Energous were trying to get their mid-range transmitter approved under Part 18 (unlimited power) rules. Most of them have the really useful information redacted, and are Energous bugging the FCC to "please can we visit so we can move this on quickly" and the FCC engineers saying "errr, sorry out of town that day" like an ex-girlfriend trying to avoid an annoying and slightly psycho ex. One of them was super interesting with lots of info in it though, which reveals a lot of the history of the system.

The data shown seems to be for the system as they were trying to push through in early 2017, with 21 W out, but to ensure they hit the SAR safety limit by December had to dial it back to 10 Watts out. This ties with the December device power at 90 cm being 30 mW, while in March it was 60 mW at 1 meter. They pushed the size of the safety cutoff zone up to 50 cm from around 35 cm, possibly changing the focal point along the way (just eyeballing the structure it looks to have changed between March and December). 

The main FCC concerns seemed to be safety via the SAR limit, as well as ensuring that energy was in "pockets of concentration" (Doc 18). There's a significant discussion on corrective factors applied as safety margins, and basically they have to scale all measured results by ~1.5 and still be under the 1.6W/kg limit (Doc 30). This means, as I suspected, that Energous cannot raise the power output of their system from where they are today (0.966 W/kg) - what they have now is as powerful as it gets.

My read of this - Energous just kept resubmitting and resubmitting, each time with the FCC telling them to go away and what to do next, and eventually they dialed everything back to the point where they got it through under the SAR limit. An undercurrent in the notes is sloppy work by Energous, with the FCC constantly having to ask for clarifications, updates, or actually doing calculations for them! (Doc 30) 

I don't see any evidence of pressure on the staff to push the device through, more exasperation on their part with second rate engineers just throwing stuff at the wall hoping it would eventually stick.

The rest of this analysis is a little dry for those not interested in the details, just warning you.

There's a few things though that stand out as important, beyond what I listed earlier. First of all, they had moved to 915 MHz from 5.8 GHz by February 2017. Document 1 indicates that the February submission is a second clarification or change in response to a meeting they had with the FCC in October 2016. I could speculate that a 5 or 6 month response time indicates that some significant changes had been made, as new measurements or clarifications could be made quickly. This may be the timeframe in which the frequency switch was made. This IMO is a significant change with implications for performance of the system, yet was never mentioned in SEC calls or quarterly reports.

The work presented by Energous also appears to be sloppy, with the FCC multiple times noting how poor the data consistency and quality is (Doc 9 "trying to understand field distribution", Doc 41 requesting "proper and consistent information", Doc 48 "We understand that it was prepared quickly, but we suggest paying attention to some details.").  Their two tables don't match, for example the received power listed below when converted from dBm in Table 2 are 512 mW and 47 mW (27.1 and 16.7 dBm) for 30 cm and 1 meter respectively, but in Table 1 (previous post) are 190 mW and 60 mW (22.8 and 17.7 dBm).


Basically, the numbers don't add up. I expect the numbers here are for an earlier system that was very tightly focused to try and maximize power at a single point to get to ~500 mW to charge a phone, but ended up going way over SAR. There may be some other reason, one being estimated and one measured, but I'm tending to the "sloppy" for now.

Document 32 shows the "keep out" zone changed around November 2017, increasing it to 50 cm. This may also be when the physical structure of the power bar was changed, or may simply be that they were forced to update their SAR measurements and this was required.

Document 18 references the need not only to be concerned with safety and states that data "should also show that the energy distribution through field maps demonstrate that there are pockets of concentration". This indicates that the safety restriction was not only a single SAR number, but the physical distribution of the energy. 

Figure 11 above shows a typical on axis beam, with a peak at one point showing the transition from near to far field, and then a gradual but continuous reduction with distance. If we assume a "pocket" of energy implies a region where there is a lower value of energy both before and after the charge location, then that would restrict the use of the system to just beyond near field only. Even with a phased array, where that transition zone is, it's a function of frequency and physical size of the transmitter. For any practical size transmitter, (equations here) it's basically likely to never be viable beyond 1 meter. If this is the case, that's a huge limitation for any at-distance wireless power system unless they make the transmitter the size of a wall.

Also, that peak in Figure 11 is at 42cm, but they say a focus at 65cm. They might want to take a look at their work there...


The size of a region of constructive interference, a focus, is often defined by the half power, or -3dB points. Looking at Figures 11 and 13, it seems that region is about 60 cm in the x- and z-axes, but only 15cm or so in the y-axis. Some "pocket"!

The "safety system" that detects if anyone is in range of the device and shuts it off (supposedly) is ultrasonic, using TI PGA450 chips and my best guess would be Murata ultrasound transmitters (sound familiar?), used in car parking sensors. I'd be very interested to see how this is setup, because as someone who has worked with them before and ultrasound a lot, I think that system might be easy to fool if you don't design it very carefully.

So overall this data is interesting, nothing too amazing, but confirms what was suspected - that this system is at the limit of what it can transmit safely, that it doesn't have enough power to charge a phone in any realistic way, that efficiency is low, and that FCC staff weren't too impressed with Energous' consistency and quality of work. But it does prove that persistence pays off.

(Seemingly obligatory statement - I have no financial position, short or long, in Energous or any related company)

Energous: It's Worse Than We Thought

A contributor to SeekingAlpha has recently posted an article highlighting data from an FOIA request to the FCC regarding Energous' approval for their mid-range transmitter last December. They appear to show concern from the FCC officials as to how the system was performing, and understanding the system behavior. There's also discussion regarding the safety limits, which I think are one of the key issues and concerns surrounding this approval, and covered them in several posts. The author has provided the FOIA documents for download here.

For some background, I wrote several posts on the FCC approval in December last year, you can find them starting here.

Interestingly, earlier this year I did a FOIA request for all of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's communications regarding Energous (along with several other keywords) and was told there was nothing. Given Ajit Pai's (IMO clearly illegal) use of the official FCC communications to promote a private company, I suspect there are documents there, just not available. I may revisit that.

One of the key images that has been redacted from the FCC report, but is floating around from another source, shows the actual specifications for their desktop system.


There are some key points in here:
  • The system works for only 1 receiver at a time
  • Output is from 12 antenna, each antenna is 1.8W (32.5 dBm) - 21.6 Watts total output
  • Receive power at 30cm is 190 mW, at 1m is 60mW
  • Max range 1 meter
  • Receiver is 6.5 cm in diameter
  • No mention of safety limit distance
There is no clear detail is that received power is actual RF power at target, or power to battery at target - I suspect the former. This is a higher output power than the system shown in FCC documents in the Part 18 Approval (21.6W vs 10W), and the receive power slightly lower - I was estimating 100 to 150 mW at 50 cm, some were estimating higher. That implies a "Wall to Battery" efficiency of 0.2% at 30cm and 0.06% at 1 meter, assuming 90 Watts in at the wall socket (thanks to a reader for pointing out my initial mistake here). That would mean a phone would take over a day to charge at 30 centimeters, and nearly 4 days at 1 meter - and that's assuming 100% efficiency on receive, and I also suspect those numbers are ideal and real world will be worse. You might say it's more appropriate for IoT or small item charging, however the receiver, at 6.5cm diameter, is wider than my phone. I expect it's multiple dipole antenna and they need it that size to get even that terrible efficiency. I can see why Myant didn't want this receiver in their underwear.

So charge times are obscenely long, it's incredibly inefficient, only one target receiver at a time, the receiver is larger than a phone, and it needs a safety cutoff if you get too close. Did I miss anything? 

Apple must be chomping at the bit to get hold of this technology...

I'll dig into the released documents in more detail later, but at first glance it doesn't quite match with prior statements from the Energous CEO as to system capabilities.

"Here is a brief summary of the results of the amount of actual power delivered to a device at varying distances with a single WattUp transmitter. Power received at zero to five feet measured 5.55 watts compared to our targeted performance of 4 watts. Power received at five to 10 feet measured 3.74 watts compared to our targeted performance of 2 watts and power received at 10 to 15 feet measured 1.06 watts compared to our targeted performance of 1 watt."

5.5 Watts vs an actual 0.19W - only a factor of around 29. Remember that when viewing the statements from at-distance wireless power companies as to their performance specs, compared to what they have to write in the legally required documents and spec sheets.

There's an update to this post, reading the releases in more detail, here.

(Since I always seem to need say this - I have no financial position, short or long, in Energous or any related company)