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There's noway that this is going to be practical within the current laws of physics. You can't use a wide beam to cover an area because the amount of energy available drops by orders of magnitude the further you get from the transmitter. If you used a focussed beam (which is what they are suggesting) then you need a separate beam that tracks and follows the location of each device. So to cover a very small area you'd need multiple transmitters tracking and beaming sound to the exact location of each device. And the transmitters are going to have to be very close by, and then there are all the obstacles between your pocket and the transmitter that will block the beam. You might as well just use an inductive charger. But still, just like solar freaking roadways and perpetual motion machines we want to believe and since most people don't understand the science these ridiculous and impossible ideas draw people in again and again.

There's a more in depth analysis of why this won't work here: http://www.eevblog.com/2014/08/07/ubeam-ultrasonic-wireless-...

Well, in principle you can divide one transmitter's attention to several devices over time. (Either by changing the direction of the antenna, or more sophisticatedly via beamforming.)

Otherwise I agree with you. Even the tone of this article is unconvincing. I wonder what Andreessen’s due diligence team was thinking, maybe the patents have value?

If I were a VC invested in this, I'd want hearing tests on the engineers working on this project; once a month, over time.

Of course, if I were a VC, I wouldn't invest in this, because it is physically retarded on inspection. Whoever did the dil on this is either a fool who doesn't understand basic physics, or was bribed somehow. Off the top of my head a) sound energy falls off as 1/r^2, b) that those sorts of energy densities are almost certainly physically dangerous to more than ears c) sound doesn't propagate well in air at those frequencies; you're basically heating up air d) transducers are not good at turning sound into energy

"a) sound energy falls off as 1/r^2"

No, it doesn't. That's how it falls off when being transmitted perfectly spherically in an environment that won't reflect or refract anything. Consequently, this turns out to be a not-very-useful equation in practice. In particular ultrasound can be beamed just like light, making the "perfectly spherical transmission" not even a close approximation, just as it is not a good approximation for focused lasers. Our intuition doesn't support this because our hearing tops out at frequencies still low enough to do some significant bending around obstacles (though at the higher end if you pay attention you can tell they don't do it as well), so we don't have an intuition of sound acting like a beam, but it can.

There's more to sound than "basic physics", and what you learn in Physics 101 about sound is simplified to the point of total uselessness as in real-life you will never encounter a situation where the prerequisites are met for inverse square falloff.

Mind you, I'm still pretty skeptical, but not about the ability to beam sound. That's established engineering, not wild-eyed craziness.

"In particular ultrasound can be beamed just like light, making the "perfectly spherical transmission" not even a close approximation"

You do realize that energy from a point source of light also falls off like 1/r^2, right?

OK, since conversation has moved on, let me be blunt: You don't know what you're talking about. Your physics 101 education is not the end-all, be-all of physics, and what "point" transmission does doesn't matter because we aren't talking about points. You are in no position to be lecturing people about physics; you are in a position to be lectured to about physics.

With electromagnetism the energy fall off depends on the radius and the wavelength. If the wavelength is is greater than a certain amount of the radius (the Fraunhofer distance) then the energy fall off is a linear 1/r. This is called the near field.


Sound which you can't hear isn't going to be dangerous to the ears in a conventional sense. Of course at electrically significant power levels, it is just potentially dangerous generally.

Inaudible sounds can indeed affect and possibly damage hearing. Here's a source: http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/09/sounds-you-cant-h...

Ultrasound can also cause tissue damage at high intensity.

I'd be cautious about making claims that humans are not damaged by high intensity sound, even if inaudible.

Perhaps this is what you mean by saying "a conventional sense" but I just thought I'd expand on your answer in case others read it and get the wrong idea.

Here are the published patents thus far:

http://patents.justia.com/inventor/marc-berte http://patents.justia.com/inventor/matthew-angle

The problem I can see is that the filing date for those patents is far later than public demonstrations such as the one at D9 on or around 04/22/2012

>The problem I can see is that the filing date for those patents is far later than public demonstrations such as the one at D9 on or around 04/22/2012

That would indeed cause a problem in a country with an "absolute novelty" requirement in patent applications, but the United States is not a such a country. In the US, the inventor has 12 months after the first public demonstration to file for a patent, and in this case, the patent was filed within 12 months.

> I wonder what Andreessen’s due diligence team was thinking, maybe the patents have value?

The job of a VC is to sell to later investors. Long term viabilty isn't always in their best interest. I could name half a dozen specifics but I'll let you imagine instead.

a16z can make stupid investments, but usually they don't. my guess here is there is more to this than just simple quackery.

(from the article) >Did the physics actually work? Check

I apologize if this question is terribly ignorant, but do investors publicly disclose the results of due diligence that would lead them to believe in the functionality and practicality of such a product? I'm very interested in learning their opinions on the challenges presented by the naysayers (with whom I agree right now).

I appreciate everyone who provided sources that prove uBeam has, at the very least, some huge challenges to overcome in practicality. Like you mention, though, I imagine that these investors have probably considered these challenges.

As far as I know the circulation of DD reports is extremely limited, usually to the company paying for the report and occasionally the management of the company that was looked at.

In the case of outright BS it stays with the VC, if there are useful 'to-fix' prior to closing items then they usually get passed (sometimes edited or excerpted) to the company.

A general public disclosure is a possibility but I've never seen one, investors are not 'speaking for the company' in any way and if investors started to release such sensitive documents that would be considered a false step by the company (and probably rightly so, the information gathered during the process is company confidential and no VC in their right mind would want to suggest to future investments that they have a cavalier attitude towards such information, be it positive or negative, disclosure should be up to the officers of the company).

Meredith Perry is no fraud. She was in a Penn graduate program before this venture, and has worked at NASA.

It's directional transmission technology. The power loss is minimized as the ultrasound is directed and focused at a particular location. There's no inverse square law here, and it's easily within the bound of known physics.

As far as I know, (indirect relationship with the a good friend of the founder, that I won't say anything more about to protect his privacy) Meredith is actually genius-level and a relentless work horse. I'd bet big on this one.

If I could work for any one company it would be uBeam. I just started a great position, and I'd do it despite the press. The moment they made an offer I'd be on a plane.

This is a "First they dismiss you. Then they laugh at you. Then you win" scenario.

> This is a "First they dismiss you. Then they laugh at you. Then you win" scenario.

Then god knocks at your door and angrily asks why you didn't obey the laws of physics.

Tell me what part of the physics you find impossible.

I don't care how smart she is, she can't defy the laws of physics. Also, the reflection and harmonics are going to drive any animals and/or children & teenagers nuts.

She's not defying the laws of physics. It's a tracked directional system that concentrates the ultrasound at the point of the device. Honestly, not even really that out there as far as the physics is concerned.

EDIT: Unlikely. Children hear better in upper ranges, not lower. And animals are unlikely to be too perturbed. These types of noises are generated naturally all the time.

The challenge here is the engineering. How precisely can you build the tracking? How much leakage is there? Are there problems with harmonics? How do you build an app that can relatively reliably 3d position a device relative to a base station. And finally, how do you get that base station to be able to simultaneously or rapidly re-aim itself to target each of the devices. That's hard, but certainly exciting and very possible.

The patent application[1] lists the transmission frequency as 40-60kHz, a high frequency. Humans typically hear up to around 20kHz, dogs 44kHz, cats 79kHz. Not Low frequencies.

A directed, concentrated, high decibel volume, in the 40-60kHz range is not the sort of thing found naturally 'all of the time.' As other posters have mentioned, transmitting energy via sound is likely impossible do both safely and at useful amperage. Ultrasound is not safe at high energies even if you can't hear it.

[1] patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US20120299541.pdf

Initial patents rarely resemble final technology. There's something you get out right away. Most startups do this.

Given that the patent followed a prototype, it has to in some way resemble the final tech.

The fact remains that Ultrasound is not an efficient mode of energy transmission [1]. Wireless induction is almost certainly more efficient over the same distances. And ultrasound is a potential nuisance and hazard to wildlife and pets in way EM broadcasts simply aren't.

[1] http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/IECON.2011.6119486

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