I’m Hoping on this One


ANTA MONICA, Calif. — A year ago, Meredith Perry, the founder of a well-capitalized start-up promising a technology revolution — charging smartphones over the air using ultrasound waves —  went into self-imposed exile.

No interviews, few appearances. Just heads down on work.

Her company uBeam, flush with $26 million provided by Silicon Valley players eager to crack this thorny modern-day tech problem, had been called a fraud by a former engineer. Media reports compared Perry to Elizabeth Holmes, whose high-flying blood analysis company Theranos has suffered an ignominious fall.

“Our industry is binary, your tech works, or it doesn’t,” says Perry, 27. “We needed to show that it works.”

In late May, Perry broke her media silence, giving USA TODAY a first, close look at uBeam’s developing technology in action. The approach harnesses ultrasound and optical lasers to charge multiple phones at once at a distance of up to 10 feet. The vision is that one day, people will walk into a uBeam-outfitted room, say a coffee shop, and within seconds, phones will be getting juice.

Concern that she might be called a fraud again were omnipresent during the demonstration. For starters, Perry took this reporter to a nearby T-Mobile store to buy a new Samsung Galaxy S7 for the test, an effort meant to counter skeptics who might wonder if she could fake it by using her own phone.

“This is not a trick,” she says, slipping the new device into a custom-made case, an early version of the uBeam technology that, ultimately, it hopes to embed inside smartphones.

Perry flipped the switch on a large white box, about the size of a ceiling tile. A quiet hum filled the conference room as the entrepreneur asked her visitor to pick up the phone and hold it in front of the box about about four feet away.

Ping, chirped the smartphone. “Charging,” read the icon message. And not a cable in sight.

Perry beamed.

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