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uBeam Lay Off Around Half of the Employees?

Over the last week I've heard from a number of people as to some significant events at uBeam - last Monday the 10th June around half th...

Friday, December 28, 2018

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

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

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

So back to the detail:

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

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

An interesting statement from this documentation:

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

Don't sleep too close to it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Energous Product Announcement: Where's the Approval?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Dreaded SSSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update 24th Feb 2019: No issues next time I flew, seems to have been a one off after all.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Awards Lists: Media Shows How Valuable They Are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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