Mobility

The iFind's fall from crowdfunding success: Breakthrough or bogus?

TechRepublic talks with the people behind a energy-harvesting, item-locating device that raised a half million dollars and then lost it.

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A high-performing new Kickstarter campaign — the iFind, a battery-free item tracker with a plethora of potential uses for consumers and businesses — has gone from making $546,852 (after asking for $25,000), to getting suspended Thursday afternoon, just four days before the 30-day campaign was set to close and collect money from all of its supporters..

"I guess the suspension probably came from the negative press we were getting about us being a scam," iFind co-founder Paul McArthur told TechRepublic.

Kickstarter's website outlines possible reasons any project might be suspended:

  • Misrepresentation of support, through self-pledging
  • Misrepresentation or failure to disclose relevant facts about the project or its creator
  • The creator provides inaccurate or incomplete user information to Kickstarter or one of our partners
  • The characteristics of the creator account overlap with the characteristics of backer accounts that pledged to their project
  • A party related to the creator is posing as an independent, supportive party in project comments or elsewhere
  • The creator is presenting someone else's work as their own
  • The creator is offering purchased items, claiming to have made them

We reached out to Kickstarter and asked why the iFind campaign was suspended, but the company declined to comment.

Many of the iFind's almost 10,000 supporters are likely to be very disappointed. According to its description, the iFind tags can harvest electromagnetic energy from the air around it and store it in a power bank. It works with Bluetooth so the user can keep track of the items they tag. For example, if you had an iFind tag in your wallet, not only will you always know where the wallet is, you also have the option to be notified if it ever passes out of a certain distance from you.

The problem is, many of the other details are scant, and the people of the internet noticed.

Commenters and various articles raised questions about whether it's actually possible to harvest enough electromagnetic energy to power the tag, whether there is a working prototype, and whether the iFind team actually filed any patents as they say.

iFind's McArthur said he's been working on EM harvesting since at least the 90s, even nearly getting arrested for "doing experiments outside of a power station in 1997." In 2004, he and several other authors were granted a patent for an article locator system that used GPS and, by his account, didn't pan out.

Since teaming with iFind's other co-founder, Zhangyang (Atlas) Wang, McArthur said they built a "phase one prototype."

McArthur stated that these prototypes were destroyed in the testing process. "You have to open them up and destroy them to check the parts," he said. The plan is to build phase two prototypes and get them certified by October, which was the delivery date listed on the Kickstarter page.

He said that the certification process means passing muster with the Federal Communications Commision, UL, Consumer Electronics Association, CISPR in Europe, and TUV in Germany.

The idea of harvesting electromagnetic energy is not new. Nikola Tesla was into "free energy," afterall. It's been an appealing idea for years and people have made attempts to pull energy from sources like power lines, or anywhere that might give off an electromagnetic field. The underlying technology could be applied in myriad ways apart from powering a tracking device. For small businesses, if something like iFind went to market, uses could include locating inventory or assets, or even people.

In the iFind's case, McArthur said the tag pulls from two frequency bands that most household appliances center on: 915 MHz and 2.4 GHz.

"The way the circuit works is there's two bands and it's intelligent. It looks for which one's giving it more energy and it captures the energy from either one of those and from there it charges the bank," he said.

Any more details about the circuit or the powerbank are unavailable as the iFind team expressed concern in their Kickstarter updates about competitors trying to reverse engineer their idea.

The lack of detail or the reasoning behind it, either way, hasn't put skeptics as ease.

Another concern raised in the comments was that the patent numbers supplied in the Kickstarter description do not yield any search results in the United States Patent and Trademark Office's website. According to the USPTO's FAQs, applications are not published until 18 months after the original filing date. Diana Ennen, iFind's public relations representative, said that iFind filed for its US patents in May of this year.

Ennen said before being notified of the suspension, they'd considered canceling the campaign because of the negative comments. They plan to move forward with the tags. McArthur said they've received private funding in 2013 and 2014, though they would not disclose any other details. He also claims to be in talks with seven large companies interested in licensing the technology.

We sent the Kickstarter page to an RF engineer. Given the information on the page, he said it's feasible, but there's obviously no way to gauge whether it will work as well as they plan.

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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