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Start-up eyes wireless charging for devices

uBeam founder & CEO Meredith Perry
David Livingston | Getty Images
uBeam founder & CEO Meredith Perry

A start-up led by two recent college graduates intends to free us from the ubiquitous tangle of wires that charge our many devices by replacing them with wireless electricity.

The company—uBeam —has attracted some high profile investors, and despite having missed a self-imposed product deadline, founder Meredith Perry's Twitter feed hinted recently that a product will launch soon.

The founders—Perry and Nora Dweck—started the company in 2011, inspired after forgetting a laptop charger at the wrong time. Their goal is a product that enables charging the electric batteries of various devices through the air: "WiFi for power."

If they succeed, they'll enter a rapidly growing sector. Big players in smartphones and tablets, including Samsung and Apple, have been debuting rudimentary wireless chargers for a couple of years; they're "wireless" in that the device itself doesn't need a wire, it just sits on a pad that's plugged into the wall.

Though not as truly wireless as uBeam is aiming to be, the market for this sort of rechargeable device was nearly half a billion dollars in 2011, according to Markets and Markets research. It's expected to reach $7.1 billion in 2017.

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The "u" in the name stands for "ultrasound," the means by which they aim to pull off the charging. There's a main charger, which they suggested at the only demonstration thus far (at the 2011 D9 conference in Palos Verdes, Calif.) could be ceiling mounted.

An adapter receives the signal, and triggers something called piezoelectric material to generate a charge (in science-speak, that's a type of material that generates a voltage when squeezed or bent). The various devices would plug into the adapter.

"It's a different method for generating the initial voltage" said Dr. Bernhard Bach, Department of Physics, University of Nevada.

The 2011 demo helped them secure $750,000 of angel funding from a handful of investors, including Founders Fund and the high profile Andreessen Horowitz. The company also received millions in debt financing in 2013, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The sources of the debt matter, because debt is uncommon for start-ups," said Robert Wiltbank, board member of the research firm Angel Resource Institute. Wiltbank said that such an investment would appear to be a vote of confidence.

"Let's say uBeam buys a chip from Motorola. If the supplier of the chip is optimistic about their potential, they'll extend a larger line of credit with generous terms in order to facilitate uBeam's growth," Wiltbank said.

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The company's stated goal was a product in 2013. As of March 2014, there's been no product, nor any update as to when one would appear. Their website offers no information, and the company didn't respond to requests for information. Perry's Twitter page, however, hints that they're knee deep in research and development.

Should investors be concerned about the delay?

"Companies miss deadlines all the time–it's never good news–but without knowing why they've slipped, it's hard to have a gauge on how big a problem it is," said Wiltbank.

None of the principals contacted for comment responded, but a tweet from Ben Parr, , who invested in uBeam through his DominateFund, may represent the general sentiment.

"Proud of the @Ubeam team and what they're working ... to build," the tweet said, which included the hashtag #HappyInvestor.

by Kylen Campbell, Special to CNBC.com

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