We have wireless internet. We can send wireless data. Why don't we have wireless power?
That simple-sounding question sparked Meredith Perry, then a student at the University of Pennsylvania, to try to come up with a complex solution.
The result is uBeam, a wireless charging device that uses sound waves to send power to your phone, computer, or anything else that needs charging. Perry, now 27, has been working on the technology since 2011 with help from hired contractors and experts. Based in Santa Monica, California, the company has raised more than $25 million in funding from investors including Mark Cuban, Tony Hsieh, Marissa Mayer, and Marc Andreessen. Cuban has even said that, should it work, it's a "zillion-dollar idea."
The technology starts with a uBeam transmitter that converts energy intro ultrasound waves above the frequency that humans can hear. The sound gets beamed to devices within the room--it can't travel through walls or other objects--then converted back into power.
It's certainly groundbreaking--so much so that Perry has faced harsh blowback from skeptics. Some scientists doubt the technology could work, saying it would need to break the laws of physics to do so; others fear sending waves through humans could cause health issues. One physicist wrote that uBeam's funding so far "illustrates everything wrong with tech investing today."
But Perry promises the technology is safe, and that it works. She used a talk Tuesday at Imagination Day--which is part of the Tribeca Film Festival--to express some delight at the prospect of proving doubters wrong when uBeam is introduced in the near future.
"We've proved out the technology, and we are on our way to deploying the product to the world," she said.
So why hasn't it been done before? Perry believes her status as a non-expert helped her think about the problem differently than most. After lots of research, she says she broke the solution down into steps, using seed funding to hire contractors to build the various elements of the technology. Perry says uBeam has used 30 of the world's leading ultrasonic engineers, physicists, and electrical engineers.
"How many brilliant, game-changing ideas out there thought up by laypeople, teenagers, store clerks have been squashed by experts that said, 'That can't work'?" she says. "If I weren't as stubborn as I am, I probably would've chucked this entire idea five years ago, because people with a lot more knowledge told me that what I was doing was impossible. But by thinking differently, thinking outside the box, thinking around corners, you have the potential to outthink the top thinkers."
"If an idea is polarizing," she says, "it might just mean that you're on the right track."
No one will know for sure until uBeam shows demos to people outside the company, which the startup has promised to do sometime this year.