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$500k "Energy-Harvesting" Kickstarter Scam Unfolding Right Now 448

New submitter FryingLizard (512858) writes For a while I've been following the saga of the Kickstarter "iFind" Bluetooth 4.0 tracking tag. Nothing new about such tags (there are many crowdfunded examples; some have delivered, some have disappointed), but this one claims it doesn't require any batteries — it harvests its energy from electromagnetic emissions (wifi, cell towers, TV signals, etc). The creators have posted no evidence other than some slick Photoshop work, an obviously faked video, some easily disproven data, and classic bad science. So far they've picked up half a million in pledges. With six days to go until they walk off with the money, skeptics abound (10min in) including some excellent dissections of their claims. The creators have yet to post even a single photo of the magical device, instead posting empty platitudes and claims that such secrecy is necessary to protect their IP.

Using just their published figures, their claims are readily refuted, yet still backers flock in. Kickstarter appear uninterested in what can only be described as a slow-motion bank robbery, despite their basic requirement to demonstrate a prototype. It seems self-evident that such scams should not be allowed to propagate on Kickstarter, for the good of other genuine projects and the community at large. Skeptics are maintaining a Google Doc with many of the highlights of the action. Bring your own popcorn and enjoy the show."
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$500k "Energy-Harvesting" Kickstarter Scam Unfolding Right Now

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  • So a domain name lookup on their site yielded nothing. And there are suspiciously no patents mentioning "wetag" or "ifind" and the names they listed (Dr. Paul McArthur) are in patents but for cold fusion BS in California.

    Surely, though, they must have registered the "iFind" trademark? And if you search on TESS we find:

    Owner (APPLICANT) WeTag, Inc. CORPORATION TEXAS 3309 San Mateo Drive Plano TEXAS 75023

    With an attorney listed as "Richard G. Eldredge" which corresponds to a local attorney []. Before you deploy the door kickers to lynch somebody, that address is just somebody's $200,000 house and could possibly be a random address used by a jerk. Remember that it's entirely possible that this is all a front by some other actor and someone was paid western union/bitcoin to register this trademark through this attorney without realizing they were just being used by literally anyone in the world ... of course, kickstarter should have even better transaction details (hopefully).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:52AM (#47305167)

    Actually, according to Zillow, the house was rented for $1,250 in May 2013. It isn't even an owner-occupied house.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:22AM (#47305391)

    As somebody familiar with RF engineering, I'd say this is obviously a scam. And it's not a miniaturization issue. It's a power density issue. Yes, I could build something that would gather energy like they're saying. And with the power draw of a BT device, I bet every 10 days or so, I'd have harvested enough energy to run it for an hour.

    Fact is, the RF energy needed to be harvested to do even small amounts of work would cook you if you got in the way. The amounts that are just free floating around you from cell phones for example is around -60dBm. Or -90dB. 1dB is 1 watt, -10dB is .1 watt, -20dB is .001 watt, so the typical cell phone signal is .000000001 watt by the time you receive it. And if anybody is going to try to tell me that you're going to power anything off of that sort of energy....yeah, but no. Just no.

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:25AM (#47305411) Homepage

    I had my identity stolen once. (Name, address, SSN and DOB were used to open a credit card in my name. Thanks a lot, Capital One, for not validating Mother's Maiden Name!) I still post online, though. Why? Because the things I post online won't result in my identity being stolen again. I'm more at risk of my doctor's office's computers being hacked into causing my personal information to leak out than I am at risk of all of my online posts combined causing my identity to be stolen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:35AM (#47305471)

    It isn't a question of whether you can fit an EM harvester in something the size of a dogtag, you absolutely can.

    But an EM harvester in something the size of a dog tag is limited by its size to harvesting energy that is impinges on that dog tag sized harvester. It is therefore simple to determine the maximum EM energy that can be harvested by a dog tag sized harvester. When you compare that maximum amount of energy with the energy requirements of those commercially available bluetooth chips and assume everything is 100% efficient you end up with something that doesn't harvest enough energy to do what it says it can do.

    When you put more realistic constraints on the device, such as the inability to harvest 100% of the energy that impinges on the device, leakage currents and the like then you don't need to wonder any longer whether or not the device can work as advertised, it can't.

    Does that make it a scam or the product of someone who sincerely believes, despite the laws of physics, that it will work? That would be a legal question but to the purchaser it makes no difference, they aren't going to get what they paid for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @10:56AM (#47306167)

    It is irresponsible. However "bankrupt" also applies because one of the definition of "bankrupt" is "overleveraged". The definition of GDP is "the market value of all officially recognized goods and services produced within a country." The problem here being that the amount of money the government spends and the GDP are not coupled. The GDP does not describe the amount of money or goods owned by the government. They have no claim on GDP, which is owned by the citizens of the United States. The only legitimate measure of the government's ability to spend money should be revenues.
    The problem will never by solved by any plan which requires increased taxes because the federal government has never shown any inclination to apply revenue generated by increase taxes to debt reduction. New taxes always go to new spending.
    Defense spending is less than 18%, hardly a quarter of government spending, and it is already going down. Is it too much? Probably. However since along with establishing a currency, running the post office and regulating interstate commerce national defense is one of the few things the federal government is suppose to be doing 18% of a reasonable budget is probably not out of line. Especially when considering that Non-defense discretionary spending is 17%. Since none of the Non-discretionary spending is in conformance to what the Constitution says the Federal Government should be doing I'd say lets address that first. When its down to zero we can see about reducing defense.

  • Re:This fake too? (Score:3, Informative)

    by naughtynaughty ( 1154069 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @11:02AM (#47306227)
    Who said their device is "clearly possible"? Here are some rough numbers to chew on. There are a number of other similar devices already on the market that run off of batteries. The typical battery is a CR2032 which has about 240mAh @ 2V of capacity or about 500mWh. Those devices are reported to last about 2-6 months before the battery dies. There are about 720 hours in a month, 6 months is about 4500 hours Therefore the devices are drawing an average of 500mWh/2500h = .2mW of power or 200 uW Their device is about 4 cm^2 in size, an overly optimistic efficiency of energy harvesting would be 10%. That is an effective area of 0.4 cm^2. To get 200uW of energy would therefore require an energy field of approximately 200uW/0.4cm^2 or 500uW per cm^2 Even their own field measurements directly against the door of an operating microwave oven showed a field 1/5th of that. A 500mW router at a distance of 1 meter has a field strength of 500mW/12566 cm^2 of only 40 uW per cm^2 So even 3' from a 500mW router that is unlikely to really be radiating 500mW of power we are short by a factor of 10. If they are able to overcome that factor of 10 then they should be able to produce a battery powered equivalent that lasts for 5 years on one battery. And even if they are able to overcome that factor of 10 that is only for a tag within 1 meter of a high powered router. Great if you have a habit of losing something within a meter of your router but if the device is 4 meters away (12 feet) then you have a factor of 160 to overcome. So you tell me why battery powered tags aren't made that work for 5 years (or 40 years) if these guys have a design that can live on 200 uW of power.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @11:25AM (#47306411)

    It appears, based on my back of an envelope math, it would have enough RF energy to operate continuously at at least 5meters from your typical Wifi AP or router.

    5 meters from a maximum 1 W transmitter gives you 3 mW / m^2. The chip you selected runs at least 1.8 V, so it needs ~30 mW when active.... hence you would need an antenna with an area of 10 m^2 to get that type of power to run continuously off a Wifi AP. When idle, you would still need an antenna with ~0.5 m^2, so like 70 cm on a side square. Heck, if your device was an inch square, it would barely be able to power the bluetooth in sleep mode, with no power left over to charge up to allow it to briefly transmit.

    And this is ignoring things like the antenna not being able to capture 100% of the power going through it, and that your harvesting chip isn't 100% efficient. The harvester chip gives a minimum RF input of -10 dBm, which means you would still need an antenna 20 cm square to work at that level 5 m from a wifi AP. And this is assuming your AP is working at full 1 W power continuously (In EU they would be limited to 100 mW, for example). If you are trying to power it off the bluetooth of a cell phone, most are class 2 with a maximum power of 2.5 mW, which wouldn't be enough. You have the main cell transmitter which can be up to a watt, but it isn't typically running at full power and has a small duty cycle when not making calls. This also assumes your tag is out in the open, with nothing on top or even behind it that would attenuate the signal, in which case making it brightly colored might be all that is needed...

  • Re:This fake too? (Score:3, Informative)

    by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @03:03PM (#47308575) Journal

    3' x 3' is 3 feet squared right? That is nearly a square meter. Under optimal conditions that is roughly 1kW electric power: so yes it basically can power my whole house, as long as not accidentally to many consumers are switched on at the same time.
    E.g. the fridge just started up and I activate my hair dryer.
    So with some 'juggling' I certainly could power my house over daytime, and no, it is not a low energy house, but I use shades instead of an AC ...
    So perhaps you should start to put in real numbers into your claims and start to make some wild guesses about the real numbers of said project?

  • by spydir31 ( 312329 ) <hastur@h[ ] ['ast' in gap]> on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:00AM (#47314989) Homepage

    There's no need to Email anyone, Since the funding isn't over he can just cancel his pledge.

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.