Wireless power startup uBeam of Santa Monica has hired two ultrasonic industry veterans.
Former ultrasonic medical imaging consultant Paul Chandler has been hired as the company’s vice president of acoustics. Matthew O’Donnell, dean emeritus of engineering at the University of Washington, will be chairman of the company’s technical advisor board.
UBeam is attempting to develop a cellphone charging case that can wirelessly receive energy from ultrasonic waves. By transmitting ultrasonic waves through the air and then converting it into electricity, the company claims its technology can generate at least 1.5 watts of electricity at a distance of about 13 feet from a transmitter, enough to provide a trickle charge to an iPhone.
The idea has generated dozens of headlines and $23.2 million in investments from big names such as Menlo Park’s Andreesen Horowitz, Santa Monica’s Upfront Ventures, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund as well as billionaire Mark Cuban and Yahoo Inc. Chief Executive Marissa Mayer.
“In the last 18 months we’ve proved out our technology, built working prototypes of the uBeam system, and grown to a team of nearly 30 insanely talented and experienced people,” Chief Executive Meredith Perry wrote in a blog post. “With Paul leading the engineering team and Dr. O’Donnell chairing our new technical advisory board, we are stacked with brain power as we enter into the next phase of bringing uBeam to market, and ultimately making wireless power ubiquitous.”
Perry told the Business Journal in September that uBeam would have a wireless charging product to market by this year backed by “massive multi-million (unit) production.”
The company has yet to publicly demonstrate a prototype, however, and skepticism has grown in recent months surrounding claims that uBeam can wirelessly charge electronics, such as cellphones and flat-screen TVs, by sending ultrasonic energy through the air. A number of ultrasonic experts, physicists and electrical engineers told the Business Journal in November that the proposed uBeam system would be inefficient, costly and infeasible.
At the time Perry declined to be interview by the Business Journal, but instead opted to release technical details to tech industry blog TechCrunch. One of the sources for that article, was Matt O’Donnell, now chairman of uBeam’s technical advisor board. In the article, O’Donnell said:
“There is multiplicative risk in getting all of this together to work, but it may be possible. If uBeam can deliver that amount of power to a phone with reasonable efficiency, reception, and electronic management, then their system does not violate the laws of physics.”
IEEE Spectrum reported that O’Donnell said he was contacted by uBeam prior to the TechCrunch article and asked if he would provide statements for reporters. When the Business Journal reached out to O’Donnell, he declined to be interviewed, but emailed back a statement:
“I am not expert in the details of this system. I was quoted (in the TechCrunch article) because there was a question about the basic ultrasound physics. I am a biomedical guy and know virtually nothing about the details of the wireless power space. I have no idea whether uBeam’s system is practical or not.”
Since, O’Donnell said he decided to become involved with uBeam after meeting with Perry at the company’s headquarters for a day. In an email to the Business Journal he said:
“I was impressed at the technology they have developed and also their overall approach toward solving a difficult, but not impossible, technical challenge. I am also very impressed with the team that Meredith has put together. Given this, I was excited to get involved and help them address the technical challenges moving forward.”
UBeam did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
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