Saturday, August 19, 2017

What's up with WATT, Pt I (or "What's Wrong with Tech Journalism?")

It's been a while since I covered Energous (whose ticker symbol is WATT. Other posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here). They're one of the RF based wireless charging companies, and probably the most famous for their bold claims - first claiming 12 devices at up to 10 Watts, then up to 1 Watt at 4.5 meters, while remaining safe. These numbers were so high as to raise many questions as to practicality, both with respect to physics and regulatory aspects. Still, the company stood by its claims, held an IPO, and was floated on the stock exchange. Since then it has raised millions more, and has been burning through cash at the rate of around $15 million per quarter, while repeatedly delaying products and releases in what some call a 'time to carrot' manner.

To me, it was yet another example of the inability of the tech press to truly and effectively evaluate an advanced technology, and repeatedly fail to ask even the most simple and obvious questions such as "What's the efficiency?". David Pogue was one such reporter - in 2015 he sat down with the company CEO and was shown a demo of a charge light activating on a phone, while the CEO told him of how amazing it was and the reported gushed about how it was the most amazing demo ever. No, it's not the uBeam demo from a few months ago despite the similarities - two years on and still the press can't learn. Pogue finishes his 2015 article with this statement:

But I’ve seen it first-hand, and I’m convinced: This technology is real.

Wow, that's awesome, a tech journalist has fully evaluated a piece of complex technology without even cracking the case, speaking to the engineers, or the benefit of a decade or two of experience in the field. I want to believe so let's pour millions more dollars in!

Yes, that's all funny. Except millions of dollars more were poured in, thanks in part to glowing coverage like Pogue's. Fortunately, Pogue at least thought to go back a couple of years later and take a look at Energous, and published an article last month where he talks to Energous again with a slightly more skeptical eye. I say slightly more skeptical because he still allows himself to be bamboozled by the company and still fails to ask the basic questions he should - it's frustrating as 5 minutes with a decent engineer would give him exactly what he needs to ask. Let's take a few of these failings in turn:

Consumer Product Logistics
First of all he asks why they haven't shipped the product when it's near a year after the original claim. Or wait, spend 10 minutes searching and find that in 2014 the delivery date was 2015, so it's now two years behind and the delivery is constantly moving out, around 18 months ahead. The excuse is they have gone from one to three products (near, mid, far range) and that has shifted the timeframe, but that products will be for sale late Q3/early Q4 this year. That means about three months from when that interview was given, and they're not certain when a consumer device will be in the shops.

Let me be clear about this - consumer devices that are going to be for sale are ready many, many, months prior to launch. The supply chain issues to get them out mean that, unless you are selling tiny quantities, you're ready >6 months prior. Basically - if you don't know exactly how many of your devices will be on the shelves, on exactly what dates, in exactly what location, you're likely at least 6 months out, more likely a year. A few simple questions like "How many devices will be on the shelves?", "Who are the major retailers committed to stocking them?". "What is your MSRP?", "What are your projected sales volumes?", and "Can I see the retail packaging?" and it should become really clear, really quickly that the company actually has something, or is just selling vaporware.

These questions are so simple, so generic, yet an experienced journalist doesn't know to ask them.

Regulatory
Next they discuss the FCC and regulation, and Energous make it clear that they've been working to create a new testing protocol with the FCC. Awesome. So: 

Who were you working with at the FCC? Can I call them? 

or

The FCC is a public agency and they're only working with one vendor to create a standard that will apply to an entire industry? Is that normal? Let's ask the FCC that too.

Were the FCC called? Anyone there prepared to make comment? What about someone expert in getting FCC regulatory compliance for consumer products to evaluate that statement? (uBeam also made a statement about being universal standard, then withdrew it after scrutiny)

Then the company claims that they can do this with the FCC since the spot size they focus to is 'tiny', localized just as it would be on a charging pad. Fantastic. So:

What's the spot size, in centimeters? What is 'tiny'?

or

You're working at 5.8GHz and so are looking at a multi-centimeter wavelength and an array of emitters only a few elements in size. Even under ideal conditions it's hard to focus, how do you make it "tiny"?

or even


As you can guess, there was no follow up, the tech journalist once again simply accepted the statements of the company at face value and failed to question them. Ridiculously simple questions too. My first post on Energous covers the spot size question and explains it in detail - maybe ask them why those numbers or physics are wrong? It's like the recent coverage of uBeam when the company said they'd have safety evaluated by third party experts and no-one asked "Who would that be? Can we talk to them?"

How hard are any of these questions? And if they don't answer, or dodge, you know something is up. But that would be uncomfortable, and would put access as a tame journalist at-risk, so best not to.

The Charging Pad
Next, they look at the Watt-Up Mini, the charging pad that Energous claim is their first product that has FCC approval - I've pointed out before, it has FCC approval because it puts out so little power it's of no practical use at all. Energous are at pains to point out advantages such as charging the devices at any angle, or compatibility with future long range Energous products, but once again there's no follow up with questions like:

Who are your major competitors to this charging pad? How does the Mini compare to them in charge rate, efficiency, and cost?

If it's a major revenue possibility for them, and they diverted from their core mission because it was so compelling, they should have a clear business justification. It's a simple question. How can you not ask this?!?!?

The Big Devices
Then we get to the full scale medium and large transmitters, and here's where the really interesting part happens. Remember the claims of 15 feet and multiple Watts? Gone, replaced by a 'very, very small amount of power', '15 feet from the transmitter, that’d be hard for us to increase the battery. We’d just keep it from going down.' and  'It’s not charging super fast, like you would be plugged in the wall, but a small amount of energy, trickle charging it.' Just like uBeam in their recent demo, they've suddenly gone from claiming huge charge rates like 'faster than a wire' down to 'trickle charge'.

Let me put this into an analogy the non-technical people can understand. Ever met some guy who boasts he can bench-press 1100 lbs and run the 100 meters in 9.5 seconds, and you know he's full-of-shit because those numbers are just beyond the world-records (1075 lbs and 9.58 seconds) and it would be amazing if he could do one of them? And then when you finally, finally, get him to the gym and track and find he can maybe do 150lbs and then falls over wheezing at 50 meters then staggers over the line in 30 seconds? That's what's happening here - yet everyone claps their hands in the tech example about their amazing progress rather than calling him out for being a blowhard. For anyone with a vague understanding of the situation, or physics, we're sitting wondering if we're the ones taking crazy pills.

Back to the article - it's as if these wireless power companies are all reading from the same playbook - and why not, it's not like tech journalists are going to call them on it. Here's a stunning line:

During my return visit, Energous never demonstrated its transmitters charging a phone — only low-power gadgets.

Let me be clear - a company that raised tens of millions of dollars on claims of huge range, charge rates, and short delivery times, is admitting that their original claims were greatly exaggerated and people need to scale back their expectations. More importantly, they don't show a phone being charged, about the only market that's actually worth addressing for a company with a billion dollar valuation requirement. Of course this led the journalist to ask "How this will impact the share price?", "How they could have got it so wrong?", "How are forward looking financial plans are clearly heavily impacted by the drastic reduction in sales this must imply?". Ha - no, looks like there was just a nod of the head as they took down what was told to them.

The Journalism
There was journalism in this piece though - good investigation, skepticism, and a revelation - sadly it didn't involve Energous itself, but on an internet commentator. The piece starts with the claim that a single person in the whole world was bothered by the original 2015 article - which is bizarre as there were many who questioned Energous, but that would ruin a good story. Todor Mitev appears to be a short seller - a person making money from a stock that goes down, rather than up - and has been following and commenting on Energous for some time. While the short selling does give someone an incentive to drive a price down, did the journalist even pause for a moment and say "Maybe he saw that the stock was overpriced due to the hype from journalists, is just highlighting the reality, and in this capitalistic world making some money from it too?" Apparently, a person like Todor with a financial incentive from short selling can't be trusted, but the three top execs of Energous who take home nearly $5 million a year between them from a company with no product or sizeable revenue are motivated by the angels. Yep, great job there.

There's some suspicion that Todor writes under pseudonyms on forums such as Seeking Alpha, and has been accused there of being the poster Richard X Roe. I've followed Roe's posts, which contain a lot of detailed and accurate physics, and I have had a few short exchanges with him. If his physics was wrong, then it could easily be called out, but in a similar way to how my articles on uBeam are criticized but never attacked for the maths or physics, it's his character that is questioned. Nicely done in re-iterating that line.

Final question to the author - if you asked the questions I've outlined above to Energous, would that impact your access in future, and put at risk your potential earnings as a journalist?

We're all motivated by money. All of us, it's just sometimes it's more obvious than others - but it doesn't necessarily impact the validity of what's being said. To be clear here, I have zero financial interest, long or short, in the fortunes of Energous. I don't even make money from this blog. Looks like I'm the only one with clean-hands - does this mean I get listened to more than any other player?

The Close-Up and Cop-Out
The article ends with some quite frustrating quotes. First, the CEO makes this statement:

We’re on the cusp here. We think that this will all be in the rearview mirror in the next six months or so.

So by the end of 2017 it's all going to be awesome? That's an easy one to follow up on. I'm sure we'll have a year end article doing exactly that. <cough> But it's one of the close-out lines that irritated me most of all. Our intrepid journalist writes:

I never did manage to find out exactly how realistic through-the-air charging is, how close it is to appearing in our phones and watches. I’m not sure anybody really knows.

Of course you didn't find out if it's possible, you failed to ask any serious questions, or even the easy questions. You didn't even try. The closest he gets is a quote from an MIT prof which was:

“I don’t like saying ‘never’ or ‘can’t work,'” he replied, “but I would be skeptical. My guess is that this sort of system, with phased-array antennae, might work, but it is probably not very efficient.”

which if you understand engineering speak is saying "Nope. Not going to work in any vaguely efficient or practical manner." Let me translate again to the bench-press/100 meter analogy "Yes, it's just maybe possible someone can lift that much, or run the 100 meters in that time, even one would be incredible, but two together even more unlikely. I'm just not saying "No" since maybe sometime in the next 100 years one person in a few tens of billions may be able to." 

But then he says "I'm not sure anybody really knows."

To David Pogue, the writer of this article I can say this - Really? THEN WHAT WAS THE POINT OF YOUR ARTICLE? 

You. Failed.

More than that, you failed when there are many people out there who show the ways in which what they claim can be disproved - how many did you speak to? This blog has several posts that are examples of this and refute many of the points made by Energous not with opinion but easily verifiable maths and physics.

David - I know you think you were being skeptical yet fair to Energous, but really, you just acted as a mouthpiece for them to do their PR again. This time instead of pumping up the stock early on, it's part of the slow letdown. You've been suckered. Again.

Two years ago you told us all it was real. Now you don't know. Why should we listen to you on this, other than you were chosen by Energous?

Last month on Seeking Alpha, I gave my opinion on the viability of Energous, and discussed it with an individual investor. He admitted he had no business, investing, or technical skills by which to judge the company, but it was clear he had been motivated by the publicity the company had generated, which your articles have been a small part of. Understand that your articles actually affect the finances of individuals. Your words have real consequences.

What you meant to say by "I'm not sure anybody really knows." is "It's beyond my capability to understand but rather than admitting so, I wrote the article anyway while thinking to be 'even handed'"

Tech journalism is actually important, and you turned an article about the vast overstatement of capability of a (then) $350 million market cap company, into a PR piece for them. Rather than do the hard job of asking a few basic questions that would highlight the reality of the situation, but endanger your future access, you did a 'gotcha' on an individual who uses a pseudonym and might make some cash when pointing out the realities of the technology. Easy path every time.

I get it, this stuff is actually really complex and hard to understand, beyond most people's capability - but there are some great tech journalists out there, that match skepticism with fair questioning and coverage, and manage to get the complexities explained to a lay audience. To every tech journalist out there, please, pretty please, with sugar on top - be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Next in Part II - what's going on with Energous' share price?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Have You EVER...

(Warning - Another post that ends up political). When I became a Permanent Resident within the United States (commonly called a 'Green Card'), among the multitude of paperwork I had to fill out form I-485 which asks a ton of questions about your home country, your parents, your kids, your spouse, your job, and then about your past actions. Most of them start with "Have you EVER" then go on to ask such questions as "worked in the United States without authorization?" or "violated the terms and conditions of your non-immigrant status?", and include some rather interesting catch-alls like "committed a crime of any kind (even if you were not arrested, cited, charged with, or tried for that crime)?" which would be likely to cover about 99% of the entire population. (Fortunately the Supreme Court ruled this year that the speeding ticket you forgot about won't get you arrested and deported). Then you get the serious crime questions like "knowingly aided and abetted... in trafficking persons for commercial sex acts or slavery?" and "engaged in money laundering?" (Not even specifically Russian money!). 

Further down there's a section that asks the following:

Have you ever been a member of a group in which you used any weapon against another person or threatened to?

and then (paraphrased)

Are you a Nazi?

Ticking 'yes' to either of those would likely see you called in for a more in-depth interview or denial of the green card. If you look here, you can see that of those people "denaturalized" as US Citizens, most of them were for being a Nazi. So given I had to do all that to get in to this country, I'm just wondering why a whole bunch of guys can get together, intimidate everyone they can (especially minority groups), claim oppression, give Nazi salutes and cry "Heil Trump", run cars into crowds of pedestrians, and generally "act like brown-shirts" and the President of the United States will not condemn them?

Staying quiet at times like this supports the aggressor. Actions like we saw this weekend were inevitable given the encouragement that's been given to them by this administration. It will only get worse if left to fester. There are Nazi-esque people in the White House* - Bannon, Gorka, Miller. They are writing policy for this country, such as immigration. By both action and inaction, this administration is encouraging this.

To those of you who voted for this travesty - was it really worth this to get that Supreme Court seat, and are you really going to continue staying quiet about things like this in the hope you get a tax cut passed?

What's the price of your soul?

We all know this is wrong. It's disgusting. It's not the best of what America can stand for. It's not what 400,000 Americans died in WWII for. When I became a citizen of this country, I confirmed I wasn't a Nazi, that I didn't join groups to threaten others. It seems immigrants are held to a higher standard than the natives, and clearly than the current President.

Nearly seven months ago this administration made it clear what it was going to do. I felt then that staying quiet was being complicit in what they intend to make this country, I'm all the more sure of these words now:

Everyone who knows right from wrong has to work together no matter what tribe we used to think we belonged to. 

We can't be divided, we have to stand up for the weakest and easiest targets, no exceptions.

Support those who stand for what's right, condemn those who promote and enable what's wrong. 

There's no hiding anymore, no more abdication of responsibility. This is where we learn who we really are. Don't disappoint your children.

*updated from the original. I changed 'literal Nazis' to 'Nazi-esque'. Partly because I did something that frustrates me and used 'literal' when it's not. Gorka, a British born naturalized US Citizen, is a member of an organization with a Nazi history, and three US Senators have requested the DHS review his immigration process in the USA due to exactly the process I outline above - that being a member of such a group is grounds for denial of entry. Miller is reported to be a friend and protege of Richard Spencer, a prominent white supremacist, and the original Travel Ban from January this year was authored by him. Both in the past have denied these claims, though they do draw a lot of support and praise from them. Bannon ran (runs) Breitbart.com, which described itself as "home of the alt-right (white supremacists)". Previously, they have been described as "white supremacist adjacent", however given that they are comfortable using the extreme right wing and neo-Nazi groups to gain populist support for their agenda, and have by their actions (like the Travel Ban, or removal of federal funding for groups that oppose white supremacists) emboldened them, I'm not inclined to give them leeway. So was that some hyperbola? Yes, but after the events of this last weekend, I'm not willing to cut any slack to anyone not running from this right now. I'd rather be wrong about this and apologize later than say nothing as it festers and grows.

Update 2: Bannon is out, we'll see if this is a real 'out' or just window dressing, several former Trump aides like Stone or Lewandowski never seem to have truly left. Gorka looks like he's next, with his Ph.D. advisor even saying he's not qualified for his job. Unfortunately people are going after Gorka's son, which should be out-of-bounds. Also, some are saying that that we should go through his immigration application with a fine toothcomb to get him removed - very much a no. Due process should protect everyone, scumbags too, as if you give that to the worst, you give it to everyone. Also, as a naturalized citizen, I do really want it to be exceptionally difficult to remove naturalized citizenship, and agree with the Supreme Court decision that ensures it is so. What should be questioned is his suitability for public office and a security clearance.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

MEMS Gyroscopes, Smartphones, and Ultrasound

This morning I was reading an article on Ars Technica (great tech website if you don't already read it) about the use of "sonic guns" to disrupt the operation of electronics and gadgets like drones. Here's a simple demonstration video of this happening.


As you can see the toy robot, which balances due to the gryoscopes in it, is quickly confused by the incident sound and ends up moving, then falling over. Why does this happen?

MEMS gyroscopes are Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems, essentially a very small structure that's often made by the same processes used to build computer chips, that has combined electrical and mechanical behaviors that are useful to us. In the case of a MEMS gyro, it leads to motion that creates an electrical signal which can be processed to determine rotation. These structures are small enough to be packaged into something smaller than your fingernail, and so can be fitted into compact spaces and consumer goods. Here's a video of a very simple MEMS gyro oscillating.



An image below from UC Davis MEMSLab shows how one small device can detect rotation in all three axes.


You can see that each sensing mode here has at least one "resonant frequency" at which the device naturally oscillates, which means it is very very sensitive to those frequencies. Like finding the right pitch for a glass, you can actually break them by causing them to vibrate at that frequency. Some work here, here, and here shows in more academic detail how the MEMS gyros can be rendered ineffective by ultrasound above around 100 dB. Sound is, after all, just a vibration at a particular frequency - match that sound to the resonant frequency of the gyro and it will play havoc with it.

Here's a drone showing the effect of ultrasound on its behaviour - notice that the transducers used to generate the ultrasound look like Murata devices, very similar in appearance to what uBeam look to be using in their transmitters. (I appreciate the safety precautions this researcher took!)


What this all seems to be pointing to is that high powered ultrasound in the environment can disrupt the activities of more and more of our devices such as drones - what happens if they fly through a high power ultrasound beam? Do they veer off and hit someone? And the smartphones we all use today? Those phones have multiple MEMS sensors in them, and the gyro is what allows you to play games just by tilting your phone. What happens when you direct ultrasound at levels far greater than 100 dB towards a smartphone? The manufacturers know, they spend a lot of time making sure that nothing in the phone vibrates at frequencies that disrupt their operation, but I'm not sure I've seen a study that's been made public.

Those may seem like simple examples, but there are safety considerations. What happens if a safety related system, such as positioning in a vehicle, is disrupted by high power ultrasound? Who is responsible for that? Cars and larger objects can usually shield the gyro to insulate the sound from it, but what about size and weight sensitive devices like smartphones?

If the videos above give an indication, then truly ubiquitous high power ultrasound in the environment is going to be disruptive in more ways than one. Just as well no-one is likely to try to put such loud ultrasound devices out there en-masse.

Dunkirk

Movie review: Dunkirk

Basically - go see it. Great movie. No - fantastic movie. I've found Chris Nolan to be hit or miss - always beautifully filmed, but there are often plot holes you can drive a bus through that most people seem to miss because it all looks so good, and so much is thrown at you that you're overloaded. Inception and The Prestige are the two worst examples of this (so bad I've watched them twice..) while Interstellar has ridiculously awful science it pretends to adhere to, until halfway through it shifts to a "love conquers all" mode and rapidly descends to a giant cauldron of liquid poo in which it revels. Memento gets it right, sticking with a single theme and follows it through, while the first two Batman films are just brilliant (followed by an entertaining but not-as-good third).

Nolan loves to play with time in his films - Inception with its layers and ticking clock, Interstellar with the time dilation due (and ticking clock), Memento and the forward/backward storyline. He does the same in Dunkirk, with three storylines of a week, a day, and an hour in the lives of several Dunkirk participants, all intersecting in parts as they grow closer and closer together - and all through it, a ticking clock (literally) as the soldiers desperately try to get home.

I don't often get drawn in to films, but I found myself tense throughout, and Nolan manages to bring in a lot of tension as you sit on edge waiting for the next thing to go wrong. It's an exhausting film. More though, it gets over the utter powerlessness of almost all the participants, that they're simply statistics and at some point people are going to die, no matter their skill or preparation. This isn't an Arnie action film where the hero saves the day, this is about the horrors of war and how small and insignificant each person is, but also the intense bravery of many of these men in ways that no-one ever would know.

There's a Marie-Claire contributor who has been talking about how it's just a film glorifying war for men. Yeah, this glorifies war like Trainspotting glorifies taking drugs. It's hideous from nearly 80 years away.

As we exited the film, my wife recounted some stories of her grandfather, who was at Dunkirk. She had interviewed him as part of a school project. He was a remarkable man, I met him when he was in his early 90's, and I would have guessed he was in his 60's. Born in 1912, grew up in a children's home, joined the army when 18, served until the end of WWII, started a welding business then sold it and retired at 65 - got bored and started another one at 67 and ran it until he was 89. He didn't talk about what he did in the war, he even gave all his medals to a local museum to the horror of his family, as he thought no-one would care.

As part of this interview, he described running through the streets towards the beaches at Dunkirk, with men feet away from him being shot dead, and waiting for the evacuation. He was told he was brave but he said he never felt brave, all he did was try to survive. And that, in the end, was much of the point of the film, that these men survived and then later went back to fight again, that these seemingly small acts of what they couldn't see as bravery, mattered.

It also made me think of my wife's great uncle. He was on board the Royal Oak, a British battleship sunk by the Germans at the onset of WWII. Of the ~1200 crew, 833 were killed when it was torpedoed in Scapa Flow at the naval base in Orkney - her uncle, Billy, was one of the men killed. He was 16. Like the Arizona at Pearl Harbor, this site is now a war grave, and we were allowed to scatter the ashes of Billy's sister there. She never got over the loss of her brother. Another young man who tried to do what he could and serve, yet died almost the moment it began. The film reminded me that great feats aren't required to be a hero, that simply volunteering for a role that puts you in harms way for a greater good does that.

All that, so well filmed, and perfectly acted by every one of them, especially Tom Hardy. Never overplayed, just done right.

I'm not sure I've seen a film that conveys the horror and randomness of war, along with the personal sacrifice and bravery of the men who served.

Go see it.

Mount St. Helens National Monument and the US Forest Service

I just spent yesterday at the Mount St Helens National Monument, and wanted to recommend it to anyone who passes through southern Washington or northern Oregon. Not to be missed, the US Forest Service do a great job of keeping it maintained, accessible, and making it educational.


Their budget is around $5.5 billion, which sounds a lot but there are a few things to consider - the maintain nearly 200,000,000 acres of public land (mowing my 0.1 acres of lawn is pain enough...) and nearly 400,000,000 acres of private land, manage forestry and mineral extraction, and then the most visible part to the public - keeping lands and national monuments open and available for education and recreation. That results in an estimated ~$35 billion of economic activity such as tourism. Seems a pretty good return on investment for the country.

Amazingly, half of that budget is spent fighting fires, so when you hear the calls for eliminating various agencies and reducing their budgets, remember that a lot of these agencies are a victim of their own success. Perhaps they should let a few towns burn down now and then to remind people that forest fires can be bad...

I'm only half joking there, because 20 years ago the cost of fire fighting took up 1/6th of their budget and it's been rapidly increasing since. They estimate it's going to double again in the next 30 years.

Changing climatic conditions across regions of the United States are driving increased temperatures— particularly in regions where fire has not been historically prominent. This change is causing variations and unpredictability in precipitation and is amplifying the effects and costs of wildfire. Related impacts are likely to continue to emerge in several key areas: limited water availability for fire suppression, accumulation at unprecedented levels of vegetative fuels that enable and sustain fires, changes in vegetation community composition that make them more fire prone, and an extension of the fire season to as many as 300 days in many parts of the country. These factors result in fires that increasingly exhibit extreme behavior and are more costly to manage. 

The six worst fire seasons since 1960 have all occurred since 2000. Moreover, since 2000, many western states have experienced the largest wildfires in their state’s history. 

In addition, more and more development is taking place near forests—an area referred to as the WildlandUrban Interface (WUI). Increasing densities of people and infrastructure in the WUI makes management more complex and requires more complex and requires more firefighting assets to ensure an appropriate, safe, and effective response that protects lives and property.

We're living with an administration that's trying to remove national monuments, sell off public lands to private only use, and is slashing budgets for departments like this - the FY2018 budget looks to be reduced by nearly $1 billion. The service keeps up with the firefighting - it has no choice - but this is at the cost of deferred maintenance and reducing other activities which support the land and recreation. At some point, this is going to the the US Forest Firefighting Service, and that's all. It may seem a minor thing when we're dealing with other major, immediate, crises, but the US Forest Service provides a critical function for our country, and we need to support it.

On a happier note, the trip into the Mt St Helens Monument was fun. Stop at the visitors center about 5 miles in from I-5 for the educational side, then drive up about 50 more miles to the observatory for some fantastic views of the volcano.


There are a ton of trails and other parts of the monument to access, we barely scratched the surface. Try and go if you're ever in this part of the world, and support the US Forest Service whenever you can, we all rely on them for way more than most realize.


Picking on the Little Guy

If you don't like politics, stop reading. For those who have to live in this world...

Anytime a politician or those in power target the poor, the powerless, minorities, and those who have no means of defending themselves, then take a close look because they are most likely either looking for a scapegoat or trying to deflect and distract from something else. 

No-one should be singled out based on gender, sexual orientation, religious choice, race, socio-economic class or anything similar. Any country that is diverse in its population and works to integrate, not separate, will be stronger because of it. Moreover, a country that looks after the weakest of its citizens is a society that will be just to everyone.

Authoritarian regimes get their start with scapegoats from small groups outside the mainstream. We should have zero tolerance for any such discrimination from our government. The recently tweeted 'trans ban' is exactly such an action. If someone meets the physical and mental requirements for the military, or any other role, they should not be discriminated against.

As an example you have likely already seen, I give you Kristen Beck, a transgender Navy SEAL. Kristen seems like exactly the type of warfighter we want, and wouldn't let things like 'bone spurs' get in the way of serving. Her quote sums up the entire situation perfectly:

It's a leadership issue, not a transgender issue.

America is better than this, and such divisiveness can't be allowed to stand. What is happening right now is not normal, and we can't allow it to become that way. To those who don't care about such people, let me make this pretty clear - Donald Trump doesn't care about you, or your tax cuts, or your coal mining job, or whatever you thing you can get from dealing with the devil, and one day you will be the target, no matter how white or male or Christian you are. Defend the little guy, and you're defending yourself.

Oh, and it's just the decent thing to do.



Sunday, July 2, 2017

uBeam Withdraw Claims of Wirelessly Charging TVs?

It seems someone at uBeam might read my blog, and has updated a recent posting claiming that TVs can be charged wirelessly. Their page for a recent job ad read:

uBeam is an innovation that will breed innovation. Ubiquitous wireless power will lead to a world with smaller batteries and thinner, lighter devices. With wires virtually eliminated, TVs can sit in the middle of a room cord-free and light fixtures will become “stick-on” without the need for routed power. uBeam is also a universal standard, making those bulky travel adapters a thing of the past. Imagine charging your phone, laptop or even your hearing aid virtually anywhere, without any effort. This is life powered by uBeam.

uBeam have made these claims before, such as in a panel discussion, Oct 2016, the CEO explicitly states TVs can be charged wirelessly with ultrasound, and a previous incarnation of the company website that explicitly states flat screen TV charging. The current company website still carries images showing TVs and other high power devices, so while not stated, it does seem to be implied they can be powered - hence my question as to whether it's a claim the company still stands by.

In a blog post here, I laid out the case why I believed this was near impossible/impractical due to a wide range of considerations. Well, it seems they may have accepted my carefully laid out argument, and have now changed their claims in that page:

uBeam transmits power over the air to wirelessly charge electronic devices. the company seeks to enable a world where device charging is a seamless and untethered experience. It will be the Wi-Fi of energy.

While apparently it's too difficult to do a grammar check on three sentences, it's good to see that they appear to have accepted that my argument is correct, and that it is utterly impractical to charge TVs wirelessly with ultrasound. They even noticed that it's not a universal standard and removed that statement, given the explicit ultrasound limit in most of the world would at best result in about 3 mW at a phone, enough to charge in around 3 months of it being switched off. Oh, and that standards usually have to be run through Standards Association like the IEEE and take years of input from a large committee.

This is the latest in a list of reduced deliverable or performance claims from uBeam such as 'faster than a wire' down to 'trickle charge' style rates, charging through your pocket, mass production in 2016 that never materialized, and claims of efficient and powerful transducers in 2015 that the Chair of their Technical Advisory Board apparently never saw.

Are they withdrawing their claim of wirelessly charging TVs with ultrasound, or simply saving that surprise for later? No one has stepped up to challenge my assumptions or working, and I am still happy to discuss that with anyone who cares to. As you can see, "Arguing the Point" in the manner I suggested seems to work, though I'm getting the feeling it's working better when I blog than when I worked there.

You're welcome, uBeam!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

EEV Blog takes on uBeam

Many readers of this blog will know the name EEVblog, it's a website and online forum for talking about  electronics run by Dave Jones, an Australian engineer. It's host to the uBeam FAQ, which puts together a lot of information on uBeam in one place. In addition to the forum, Dave makes videos where he delves into topics in a pretty entertaining manner, and for his 1000th video, he takes on uBeam.

Gotta say, he does a great job of covering the tech in an entertaining manner, not sure I could have done better myself.

An interesting point he makes is the difference between possible and practical, and it echoes a comment from one of my first posts a year ago that always seems to be missed:

"In theory, it can be done in limited cases, but in practice cost and efficiency issues will likely render it impractical." 

Enjoy the show.



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Arguing The Point


Someone on the internet is wrong. You wish to let that person know they are mistaken, as well as inform others to be sure they too do not mistakenly believe this to be true. How do you argue your point in an effective manner, disagreeing with someone, while maintaining civility? There's a good post on How to Disagree by Paul Graham which lays this out, and I'd like to touch on this, especially as it relates to science and engineering discussions.

We're living in a world where we are surrounded by incredibly complicated technology - sometimes the simpler that tech looks on the surface, the more complex it is. There's a large percentage of the population that would have a hard time explaining technology as old as the internal combustion engine in your car, and things get worse from there as you move through things we all use every day but barely know it - encryption and compression get the latest episode of 'House of Cards' onto your TV, but care to lay out how that happens for me? 

More importantly, how do you tell when someone is making false or exaggerated claims about technology? The facetious answer is "study for long enough to become an expert" however even then it's hard - there's a lot of technology out there, and only so many hours in the day. If you don't know the technology, and people are arguing about it, how do you evaluate the arguments they make? One way is to evaluate how they are arguing, even if you don't understand fully what they are saying.

The pyramid in the graphic above is an attempt to lay out Paul Graham's hierarchy (I have no idea where it's from, I'm not taking credit for it, thanks to whoever did it). The pyramid you see here contains the 'best' arguments at the top, the 'worst' at the bottom, and as you can see, it's wider at the base to represent that it's a lot easier to make the worst arguments than the best - 80% of everything, after all, is crap.

At the base it's fairly obvious - if one side is saying "the other guy is a doo-doo head" then they don't have much on their side. Sadly, you don't have to go to far above this for most people to lose critical thinking and an ability to evaluate what's being said. Ad Hominem is actually quite effective in discrediting a party with some audiences - for example saying "they're just a disgruntled former employee with an axe to grind" while ignoring any detailed points that person may have made, or whether they are even justified in being disgruntled. The most common form of argument is often simple Contradiction with no evidence to support it - "My client is innocent, and we're confident that the jury will agree." Frustratingly, we seem to be in a world where there's a media bias to he-said/she-said and placing the weight of argument 50/50, regardless of actual merit of the case.

I've never seen this fake-balance more brilliantly demonstrated than by John Oliver in this Daily Show segment on the Large Hadron Collider, and how there is a "50/50" chance the world would end when it was switched in. The part in question is at around 3:00, but I'd encourage you to watch the whole thing, it's John Oliver comic genius.


Dr Ellis is my hero here. Watch him start at the 'top of the pyramid' and refuse to be dragged down into what we're used to from media. He stays on topic, doesn't get tricked by Oliver (way harder than you might think), sticks to his point, and doesn't let himself be drawn into the arguments from the base of the pyramid. It's a short segment but really highlights how awful the media are in pushing junk science from those with limited understanding compared to those with deep knowledge - but where's the audience in that?

To further illustrate that point, and to show an example of an argument on a technical matter, let's take with this recent statement from uBeam 

uBeam is an innovation that will breed innovation. Ubiquitous wireless power will lead to a world with smaller batteries and thinner, lighter devices. With wires virtually eliminated, TVs can sit in the middle of a room cord-free and light fixtures will become “stick-on” without the need for routed power. uBeam is also a universal standard, making those bulky travel adapters a thing of the past. Imagine charging your phone, laptop or even your hearing aid virtually anywhere, without any effort. This is life powered by uBeam.

I'll take that one bolded point - that TVs can be powered wirelessly with ultrasound in the middle of a room and try and 'refute the central point'.

I'll begin by trying an argument against it:

"They're a bunch of stupid poopy heads" - No, that's bad, that would be Name-Calling

"They're just disgruntled current employees desperate to share their misery with the prospective employee and have no idea of the basics of physics" - No, that's Ad Hominem

"Powering a TV with ultrasound in the middle of a room is not a practical possibility, and is around one hundred times larger a problem than charging a phone in the same manner. While it is theoretically possible, the costs, inefficiency, and safety concerns are staggeringly high, while practical alternatives are low cost, and there is no economic demand to make this happen. Regulatory limits make it difficult in the US, and impossible outside the US." - OK, now we're doing somewhere between Contradiction and Counter Argument.

Let's move this to an argument from the 'top of the pyramid' by Refuting the Central Point

I'll begin by stating my assumptions:

We're talking about a large screen TV, not a small hand held. The TV is in a room you have some control over the infrastructure. The TV does not have a battery and needs a constant supply of power to work that can't be interrupted. From Energy Use Calculator I'm going to take 100 Watts as the power requirement for a 50 inch LED TV. We'll be assuming this is in the USA, and that the pre-2015 OSHA safety regulations are in effect and that in no location is sound over 145 dB used. Outside the USA the 115 dB limit give a transmitter and receiver 1000x area increase requirement. Note this will also apply within the USA should current OSHA limits restrict usage to 115 dB.

I will assume a generous 33% efficiency on receive, with 50% efficiency from transmitter to receiver incorporating both distance and angle of incidence. I will assume there is infinite power available into the transmitter and that efficiency from the wall socket to the ultrasound conversion is also 50%.

I assume each phone case sized receiver, at 5 by 10cm, uses $10 in parts, and we need to sell at 3x BOM to make money.

I'll ignore nonlinearity for the sake of simplicity, even though that's likely to become an issue, and limit the separation of transmitter and receiver to no more than a meter.

Now my calculations:

100 Watts powered means 300 Watts acoustic needs to be received. (100 Watts at 33% efficiency). This compares to around 0.5 Watts requirement for a phone, hence the "hundred times larger" comment. At 145 dB ultrasound is around 300 Watts/m2, meaning the receiver will need to be 1 m2 in size, that is a square of 1 meter on each side, or equivalent. A 50 inch TV is around 25 by 44 inches in size, (64 by 112cm or 0.72 m2)  so as a meter is around 40 inches, that means the receiver will be around 1.5 times the size of the TV. Ooops, better get to work on that efficiency.

Now a panel that's 1m2 is about the size of 200 phone cases, so around $2000 in parts, or $6000 in cost to sell and attach to that 50 inch TV, that costs around $500 right now.

The Transmitter needs to be twice the size of the receiver to take into account that 50% efficiency, so it's 2m2, and from the above calculation that means $12,000 for the transmitter.

Note that if the regulatory limit is 115 dB then the area scales by a factor of 1000 and the transmitter and receiver are each larger than the room.

For power supply, going with the efficiencies, the wall socket needs to provide 100 Watts, times 3 for the receiver efficiency, times 2 for the transmit efficiency, times 2 for the conversion efficiency, for a total of 1200 Watts. Fortunately this is (just) what a 110 volt 15 amp circuit can provide at 80% max load regulations allow (1300 Watts).

At 5 hours usage per day, and 12 cents/kWh average power cost in the USA, that's 72 cents per day to run, or $262, of which $22 is the actual TV use, the rest the wireless power system.

The additional 1100 Watts to use the wireless power system will be lost as heat (it's about a one bar electric fire equivalent), so in the winter that will save money, in the summer you'll need AC. I'll call it a wash to simplify this.

Summarizing the Argument:

Given the above, to power a TV wirelessly with ultrasound, it will cost $18,000 in the transmitter and receiver, with an additional $240 per year in running costs. Assuming efficiencies are as high as stated. And that no-one walks into the beam, since any interruption will make the TV switch off. And that you don't mind a receiver that's larger than the TV. And a transmitter that's twice that size and isn't too far from the TV. And that the room gets a bit warm. And that it's in the USA and the OSHA limits don't change to match the rest of the world.

But other than all that, isn't that much more awesome than running a $5 cord to the nearest outlet or paying someone to run a cable under your floorboards?

I think I'm going to call this "impractical".

OK, sarcasm over - I've run my calculations, providing all assumptions, workings, references etc so that anyone who disagrees can say "Your assumptions are faulty, here's what they should be" and then it's simple job to rerun those calculations get the new numbers, and judge from there. If anyone who is an advocate of wireless power would like to argue with these, feel free to correct me, and let's see where it takes the numbers. Or argue that my methodology is incorrect, I'm happy to do so - but like every other time in this blog where I have presented numbers, equations, and physics as core to my argument, I expect I'll be met with silence or more questions as to my motives. The top of the pyramid meeting with a response from the bottom.

My point to most people is this - if you don't understand the physics or details of a technical discussion like this, look to those presenting actual data, references, and their methodology and assumptions. If there is one side doing that, and the other calling names and questioning character, then you should likely consider one side's argument as superior to the other. If both are arguing methodology and data, then you may be watching a genuine scientific debate, which is good and healthy, it's what we want. If both are calling names, they're both idiots.


Monday, June 5, 2017

What Does It Take To Switch a "Phone Charging" Light On? Pt II

Following uBeam's demo, EEV Blog contributor Howard Long made a very interesting video showing how you can turn on a phone charge light with ultrasound. It's about 4 minutes long, with audio commentary, and gives more info in that 4 minutes than in the entirety of uBeam's demo. If this subject interests you at all, I encourage you to watch this.



From his comments (edited for brevity, read the whole thing here):

I could get it to light visibly with about 1mA at a distance of 2cm ... At 2cm distance, I had about 2mW, giving it a 2% efficiency. However, ... perhaps only 15-20% of the transmitted power appears at the rx anyway. So beam forming and reasoanably sized apertures on the receiver are essential facets for this to work.

... That camera thing is an Nvidia Jetson which looks like it's for visual device tracking. ... If it needs visual indication of where the target device is, and the sensors are on the rear of the phone, the phone will have to be used face down for a ceiling arrangement, and you won't be able to hold it in a normal fashion to make a call or use the screen. Even wall mounted, assuming nothing's in the way, you'll have to figure out new ways to hold your phone.

In its current form and key use, as a phone charger, this remains practically speaking a non-starter.

It seems an engineer reproduced a basic version of the uBeam demo in a day with about $20 in parts.

The phone charge indicator lights at 1mA, which implies 5mW (5 Volts supply) and so would take about 1000 hours (~6 weeks) to charge the phone - if it weren't for the pesky fact that a phone requires around 500mW to operate, on average, so it would make no appreciable charge effect at all. 

Now of course there's only a single element here, not a full array which could emit more power, but the key point is that a charging symbol tells you nothing about whether it is practically charging. You need voltage and current to know the actual power, and you need it at both transmitter and receiver to get efficiency (which he's calculating as 2% in this setup, pretty good actually for through air). Those are key numbers you need to have. From Howard's numbers 100 transmitters will get you that 500mW and maintain charge at a constant level, in an ideal world setup - possible but very large and introduce many questions on practicality and cost.

I like the way Howard also brings out a key point in this video - of course you can send power through the air by ultrasound. That's never been doubted or questioned, here or on the EEV Blog. What is questioned is how much power can be received, the efficiency of that, the safety aspect, the cost of transmitter and receiver, and the practicality for the user.

None of those points were addressed by uBeam, other than the emphasis on slow "trickle charging", implying the "faster than a wire" claims of 2015 aren't going to be happening.

Anyway, bravo to Howard Long for showing how to put together a short, clear, technically accurate demo from which you can actually learn something.

Friday, June 2, 2017

What Does It Take To Switch a "Phone Charging" Light On?

A few follow up points on the post from yesterday on the uBeam wireless charging.

I did like seeing this quote from the journalist:

Asked why the battery percentage didn’t appear to increase rapidly, Perry shakes her head.

“You’re thinking about it the wrong way, this is about a paradigm shift,” she says. “If you’re moving from your car to a coffee shop to work and your phone is charging while you’re using it, it’s no long about what percentage you’re at. You could stay at 1% all day.”

So it's an artful dodge of the question (that the journalist didn't press on), and perhaps an admission that the charge rate is not 'faster than a wire' as has been stated before by uBeam. It's more the "trickle charge" route, where you get tiny amounts of power over a long period of time. That "faster than a wire" claim was made at a time when the company was stating 1.5 Watts minimum charging which is much more than "trickle charge", and would fully fill your phone in 3 to 4 hours. Saying you stay at the same charge rate all day implies you are charging at an overall average of around 0.5 Watts, including all the times you are not around any uBeam transmitters, but if the charge rate is much greater than 0.5 Watts, why not say?

I noticed in that article the transmitter and receiver 'prototypes' back then in November 2015 were much smaller as well.


If there is actually a "trickle charge" regime, then the phones need charged as they are in use, and most use is a person standing or sitting holding the phone, fingers around the back, at around 45 degrees. Given line of sight, and assuming the 'bezel free front' of most modern phones, this implies the transmitters will need to be on the floor or base of the wall to get access, but will also likely be cluttered. Fingers on the phone case will prevent charging - unless of course you want to hold your phone by the edges as you use it (unlike in the picture above). I'm not seeing how trickle charge works with a mobile user, you need rapid charge in such circumstances. The practicality here, I'm not seeing. Maybe uBeam can layout the actual use-case scenarios they envision?

Also interesting was the quote from technical adviser Matt O'Donnell:

“When Meredith called me in 2015, I was curious and skeptical as hell, because you just hadn’t seen efficient airborne transducers,” says O’Donnell, dean emeritus at the University of Washington’s college of engineering, who now serves as uBeam’s chief technology advisor. “But holy moly, the leaps they’ve made in the past 18 months have been impressive.”

Hmmm, so all this advancement was made in the last 18 months, they had much, much less back then. But I'm confused because in September 2015 uBeam made this statement (among others):

“We’re at a massive inflection point,” said 26-year old uBeam co-founder and Chief Executive Meredith Perry. “We are about to head into a completely new phase of growth.”...In order to ease the transition into production, uBeam said today it has hired former Cisco Vice President of Supply Chain Management Jeff Devine as chief operating officer...“When we were seeking out an operations candidate we were looking at someone with decades of experience from taking a product from prototype to production,” said Perry. “He’s going to be the one that’s going to help us take this from our small shop to what will become our massive multi-million (unit) production next year.”

So which of those is true? Production ready in September 2015, or not? As with the "faster than a wire" claims from 2015 there are some implications as to 'perception vs reality' over the last few years if what Prof O'Donnell says is accurate. (COO Devine left his role at uBeam earlier this year before 'inflection' happened). For a further point of reference, I left the company at roughly the time these claims were being made.

The current receiver case is pretty interesting too. Looking at it, I'd guess 6 by 11 by 1.5cm which is larger than the phone itself, for around 100 cm^3 of volume. A standard battery for a Galaxy S5 is about 15cm^3 so you could have around 7 of those packed into that volume, giving you around 4 days of continuous use before recharging, and would cost about $70. If uBeam are using Murata (or Murata style) transducers in that case, there's around 60 of them at $3 each, so $180 just in transducers there. I'm not seeing the practicality or economics here.

(For those wondering - Murata are the primary maker of the parking sensors that are used in many cars, using ultrasound as the detection method. They're the small circles you see on bumpers, and individually look like cylinders about 1 cm each in diameter and height. They sell millions of them every years to the auto industry, and are around $3 each in bulk. You can go buy them yourself if you like.)

I did notice they have two different arrays that are used at different times, and I wonder if they are operating in the same manner, or if they are specced to handle different test conditions, and what is seen in these demos can't all be done on the one demo system. It's a little hard to tell from the videos as shown.

Now I could make a few more comments, especially on the posters in the background of the video and what they give away, but that's just going way too detailed even for my blog. 


Last point for now - the above picture shows a Kindle Fire on the right, and if you look in the bottom it's indicating "charging", but what rate is it charging at? 4.62 volts and 10 mAmps - basically  under 50 mW. To give you an idea of what that amount is, a typical phone batter is in the 5 to 6 Wh range, which means at this rate it would take over 100 hours to charge your phone at that rate. That's also assuming the phone is switched off, as it's typically consuming at around 500 mW so without that level of 'charging' it's consuming power faster than it's receiving it. I'm not seeing the practicality if that's the case. (A demo of a charging indicator coming on can be found in a newer post, here)

All this indicates is that the floor to show a device charge light come on is not the same as actually charging it - you need to see something like the screen on the left with voltage and current to know actual charging rate. This floor varies by device (iPhone seems to trigger at a higher floor than Android, and the floor varies with charge level IIRC), it's possible it's charging much faster (faster than a wire even?), but if it is, why not say?

As has been said before - physics doesn't prevent you sending power via ultrasound, or RF like Energous does, but can you send enough power to be useful, safely, efficiently, simply, and cost effectively?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Someone was paying attention

Almost immediately after my article yesterday, it looks like someone at uBeam was paying attention and actually did a proper, adult, professional PR piece and got the company onto the front page of USA Today. Much less embarrassing! :) It does also show part of my article was wrong - at least some people care!

To very quickly give a summary:

Reporters buy a phone at a local outlet to use charging (shows phone isn't tampered with, well done), put it in the brick case, and get the charge light to come on. Shows a device with an IR camera for tracking. Done with more than one phone at around 4 feet. They go on to say:

The technology is at least a year away from commercialization, and it faces significant hurdles from ever getting out the door of this 30-person start-up. Even though it can at present power a handful of phones, it's not clear what leaps need to be made to charge a busy coffee shop. And consumer questions will linger about safety as well as cost.

So at least they maintain some skepticism.

In the short time I have available this morning, and I'll update later tonight, I'll make the following comments:

In all this time, have reporters still not learned to press on the key questions? "How much power is being received?", "How much is being sent?", "What's the efficiency?", "How much does it cost?", "Have you proved it safe?", and "If this is what you have now, what were all those 'prototypes' you were talking about 2 years ago?". But those are actual questions that matter, and basically we know the same today as we did yesterday (which indicates it was an awesome PR piece, lots of coverage with no actual info).

Technically, it's still hard to say exactly what's being done, and there's not much to add beyond my earlier articles. The video does make it look like off-the-shelf Murata devices are being used and focused into a tight beam straightforward. Efficiency and safety questions are dodged.

Is this enough to convince someone to put more money in? Most likely, so let's see if someone big enough to price a round steps up or if it's smaller less sophisticated investors again.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What's In A Picture?

Last Wednesday morning someone emailed me the below picture from uBeam, asking if I was going to be writing about it. A few seconds later, I realized that I probably wasn't, as really there's not much new to say - anyone who understands hardware and business knows what's going on, the rest don't want to be educated or are investors. I also realized a couple of days later that pretty much no-one else cares either - I only had a single journalist call me about it and after giving him my opinion, he basically said that he was just keeping his notes up-to-date and editors weren't at all interested in uBeam. Since then, I've had a few questions from the tech side, and I noticed that the EEV Blog is commenting on it, so given I've a couple of spare hours tonight, here's my take. (For those who have asked, I'm in the middle of a piece about the recent Silicon Valley: A Reality Check blog post that got some attention a couple of weeks ago and will get it up soon, honest - read the original if you haven't already) 


I'm going to split this into three sections - my reaction, the tech, and the business implications so people can skip bits that aren't of interest.

The Reaction
What we have here, I'm going to assume, is a uBeam transmitter (large box with hexagonal tiles up top) and attached to the phone a receiver (the black brick in the bottom right). What was my first thought in seeing this? (After finishing laughing that is) Clearly they aren't any better at handling publicity than they've been over the last couple of years, with the PR firm clearly so asleep at the wheel they don't even know they're being ridiculed. Given they can actually manage to turn a positive article from a journalist into another piece pointing out the ridiculousness of typical day to day life in the company, it's no surprise that this quality a job was done here.

This, I believe, is the first official public unveiling of a setup that's been promised almost every year since 2011 or so, from a company that's raised $25 million. Is there simply no realization of how bad this looks, or is there an absolute lack of shame or care? Your big reveal should amaze and wow, it should scream that you are delivering, at the cutting edge, that you know how to get the details right from the finest detail to the grandest strategy. What this says is "Hey Granny, do you think I'll win the school fair with this?" not "Thanks investors for the $25 million, we're about to change the world!"

How unprofessional does this look? First thing is that they don't seem to be interested in tidying up the lab and staging before taking a picture to send out publicly, with bags of paper, white board, old carpet, and generally an unimpressive setup visible. It's like leaving your dirty underwear on the floor when your partner's parents come round for the first time. It makes me wonder if, like President Trump impulsively sending out Tweets in the early hours while no-one is minding the store, uBeam staff came to work in the morning to see the FB feed and said "we posted what?". If any of that team have been laughing about 'covfefe' then perhaps it's out of sympathy for the Whitehouse staff and what they have to go through every day. I read the goings on with President Trump and his staff and every day I see yet another corollary to working at uBeam - just in that case it's actually about something important.

Allow me to give uBeam some suggestions as to what to do next time. Begin with "decide the image you want to present to the world". Is it "sleek consumer design that Jony Ive would be proud of" or "cutting edge sci-fi level tech", for example, then setup the situation to reflect that aesthetic. For the former, put it in a sleek case that you've built with impeccable industrial design, you know, kinda like the one that was shown at the Upfront Summit last year? Any reason you couldn't use that? Put it in a user setting with happy people pretending to charge their phones, at the office or at the coffee shop. For the sci-fi side, get it in the lab with oscilloscopes and other equipment arranged in an impractical manner that would never actually be used that way but looks really cool to the average Joe. Hey you could even take that last setup to the next step and even show the voltage and current at transmitter and receiver!

Whatever you do, decide on a marketing theme that can sell and take the time to do it justice.

Along with the pics, actually put out a press release that says something. Take a look at Energous, they're perpetually 18 months from product after a few years and yet they put out professional press releases. You've a model to work from - take a look!

And one final suggestion - and it's not like anyone would have ever told you this before - when you're doing wireless power, don't show any wires in pictures of things being powered!

Seriously - I've not worked there since 2015 and I'm embarrassed by this.

The Tech
Now some time was taken to do a little blurring on the pic - you can see over the box that photoshop had a blurring filter applied in a circle over it. Perhaps this is to obscure that it's likely off-the-shelf components from Murata as I noted in a previous blog entry. (It could be an image overlaid to truly obscure and mislead, but I don't think so).  That's a bit strange, as I have pointed out in other posts that there's no issue in putting a mesh over the front to obscure what's behind, those Murata devices have it done to them by default. That mesh would also obscure the screws in the plastic and make it look at least a little more professional.

Blurring aside, the transmitter is now in a hexagonal arrangement, unlike the regular grid seen at the Upfront Summit, with 7 hex panels each around 15 elements across, so 45 or so elements top to bottom. If it is the Murata 40S4S then that's 45 cm top to bottom, and around 1600 or so elements total. At $3 each, there's $5000 of transmitter parts right there, and those are parts that sell in enormous volumes to car manufacturers so there's not a lot of room to lower the prices further. That implies a $15,000 transmitter, minimum (typical 3x markup from COGS to sale price). The box is maybe 3 to 4" deep, and it's positioned so you can't tell if there's a ton of electronics or power supplies sitting behind it - there were a lot of electronics in a large box in the Upfront demo, perhaps they've been downsized and rotated to fit in the box. Regardless, it's a pretty ugly box and nothing like the prototype that we were given a 'sneak peek' of at the 2016 Upfront Summit - what could have happened?

The hex pattern is interesting, and I wonder if it's been setup to beamform along the center line only only, no steering, in an annular array manner (concentric rings). This would really simplify the need for electronics, but if there are bad grating lobes (as you will get in an array where the pitch is larger than the wavelength), you can probably charge off to the side anyway as there's uncontrolled energy going in lots of directions. Basically, it doesn't seem the pitch is improved to allow for better steering and any real control - a big issue for safety in my opinion (beaming energy, you kinda want to control that). It also would not be representative of an array capable of steering in arbitrary directions.

The phone is attached to an enormous receive case that could be described as a 'brick' - it looks to be about 1.5cm thick which would allow for a number of the Murata transducers at about 1cm thick, along with an electronics board. Now an advantage of such a large box is that it will shield the MEMS gyros in the phone from vibrations which can damage them, but I doubt that's what it's there for - it's simply the smallest that can be made with Murata commercial transducers.

It may be that you've heard someone say that'll get better with "Moore's Law for Transducers", implying the transducers get half the size or twice the performance every 18 months. On the face of it is a bit silly as Moore's Law refers to the density of transistors on silicon and has nothing to do with ultrasound, but when you think about it and dig deep it's even sillier when you realise that the performance of ultrasound devices is generally tied through the laws of physics to particular device dimensions. Given those Murata devices were released at least 2 to 3 years ago, shouldn't there have been some major improvements to them by now?

But the phone is charging! Errr, well it shows 100% charge, but not that it's charging, and as before no idea of voltage, current etc that we really need to know the charge rate, nor of the overall efficiency of the system. Also, from memory, at >80% charge level the iPhone still shows charging even when less than 250mW are received.

So what do we learn from this picture? Not much other than there's a rearrangement of the previous demonstration, it's still apparently off the shelf parts, the receiver case is enormous, and there's no-one experienced in charge of publicity at the company to put out good pictures. As before, there can still be power received, even in the low 10's to 100's of mW, but as engineers and physicists have been saying all along, it's not transmitting power via ultrasound that's in question, it's can you do it at a useful amount, safely, in a practical way, at an acceptable efficiency, with hardware at a reasonable price. This still answers none of those.

The Business Side
As noted above, this looks like demo hardware, not even prototype, and still hasn't been shown working or efficiencies given. Can it work in a practical situation like an office or a coffee shop, or under standard use cases? What's the efficiency? Can it steer? How does it know where the phone is and track it? Most importantly, is it proven safe? Is it even legal at the dB level in most countries?

Reaction on Twitter seems pretty muted - in a week there's been a whole 3 replies and ~100 'likes' which is pretty telling. Seems the journalists know their audience...

What's really interesting though is that uBeam have not yet announced a new funding round. It's near 4 months since the Upfront demonstration, enough time to have completed a funding round with such slam-dunk technology. I'm saying 'no funding (yet)' as there are no new job ads, no publicity, and if one of the 'big guys' who a company will already have had come through to price the round were interested, they would not allow pictures of the tech to get out, especially if it's an Apple or a Google. Four or five months into fundraising things are starting to get stale, everyone knows that the first guys you spoke to haven't come up with terms (or acceptable terms), and that holding out will just get the company more eager to deal. Even with reducing burn rate by shedding senior staff and closing offices, runway only buys you so much in this type of situation. It's getting close to summer as well, and VC's are notorious for disappearing for July and August.

I have been expecting it announced soon, since there's no shortage of dumb money to go around these days, as when a 'low toxin butter-coffee' company can raise over $19 million, it seems anything will get funded. Perhaps they're holding out for the best valuation and getting that $100m round on an Energous-beating $400m valuation?

Who knows? And, from the public reaction to this picture, who cares?