Former VP Questions Claims of Wireless Charging Startup UBeam

  • Company has raised funds, touting a new way to charge
  • Paul Reynolds, a top engineer, says technology is unproven

A former top engineer at UBeam, a startup aiming to develop wireless charging for gadgets, has questioned whether the company is publicly exaggerating the success of its technology.

Paul Reynolds, who was UBeam’s vice president of engineering for more than two and a half years, said the company hasn’t backed up claims made publicly about the effectiveness of its technology.

“I have posed questions. I have put information out there,” said Reynolds, who late last year left the startup backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Mark Cuban and other investors.“I have made statements that are personal opinion.”

Reynolds said the company’s credibility was damaged when it failed to correct claims made in a September 2015 TechCrunch article, specifically the idea that uBeam’s technology “could power your phone while it’s in your pocket when you’re in a cafe.” Reynolds said such a feat would be “physically impossible.” The consensus, he wrote in a blog post, is “while in theory it may be possible in limited cases, the safety, efficiency, and economics of it mean it is not even remotely practical.”

UBeam has been dogged by skeptics about whether its wireless charging technology, which is designed to rely on ultrasound waves, could work as advertised. Powermat Technologies Inc., founded in 2006, is another company that hasn’t solved the puzzle of taking cordless charging to a wide consumer audience.

Meredith Perry, chief executive officer of UBeam, wasn’t available to respond to questions, a company spokeswoman said. In a November interview with TechCrunch, she defended her company, saying, “We’re building something real. We’re building something that’s insanely difficult. So difficult, people think that we’re frauds.”

In that article, UBeam said charging wouldn’t work through walls or clothes. Its website now says the technology requires “line of sight.”

Even as UBeam has faced questions, investors Marc Andreessen and Cuban have remained publicly upbeat about the technology.

“The thing is -- and we don’t like to get into a lot of detail about this because it’s proprietary -- but certain people have theories about why this can’t possibly work, and the one thing I can say about that is we do quite a bit of work on these before we invest,” Andreessen told Fortune in a July 2015 article. “It’s not inconceivable that we could get fooled some day, but uniformly, the experts who looked into it for us thought it was very credible. So the early criticism of, ‘It can’t possibly work’ is most likely highly unfounded.”

A spokeswoman for Andreessen didn’t provide comment. Cuban couldn’t be reached for comment.

Reynolds said he has focused his criticisms on the company’s public claims.

“There’s no information that is not public domain,” Reynolds said, declining to comment when asked whether he considered the company a sham. “The information is out there. People just need to connect the dots.”

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