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25岁美女发明家无线充电器

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  Meredith Perry is tired of wires.

  梅雷迪斯o佩里已经受够了各种充电线。

  The 25-year-old was still an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania when she built the first model of her wireless charging system and demonstrated it at the All Things Digital conference in 2011. (It was basically like two toaster-sized boxes that were two feet apart, and we showed that you could beam a certain amount of power over that distance with ultrasound, she says.) Its name? uBeam.

  2011年,现在25岁的佩里还是宾西法尼亚大学的一名本科生。就在那一年,她发明了她的第一款无线充电系统,并在All Things Digital科技峰会上展示了一番。(她介绍说,它基本上是由两台烤箱大小的盒子组成,相距两英尺远,我们在峰会上展示了一下如何通过超声波将电能跨越那段距离输送过去。)这款设备叫做uBeam。

  Now a company in its own right, uBeam says it has a working prototype and could have a product on store shelves within two years. There are other wireless charging systems already out thereQi, for example, charges your phone as long as it sits on or inches away from a small basebut Perry believes uBeams technology is superior to all competitors. As part of the Shape the Future package in the January 2015 issue of Fortune, Perry, who lives in Los Angeles, sat down for a long conversation by phone about how she created uBeam and her vision of other future technologies. What follows is an edited transcript.

  现在,这家名为uBeam的公司表示,它正在研制一款可能在两年内就会上市的原型产品。目前市面上已经有了一些无线充电产品。比如,只要你把手机放在一个小基座上,或者离它几英寸远,一种名为Qi的系统就可以给手机无线充电。不过佩里认为uBeam的技术比所有竞争对手都要先进。作为2015年1月《财富》杂志塑造未来系列文章的组成部分,佩里在洛杉矶接受了长时间的电话专访,畅谈了她一手创建的uBeam,以及她对其它未来技术的看法。以下是经过编辑的采访实录。

  

  Fortune: Lets go to a few years ago when you were first beginning to work on uBeam. What was the invention process like?

  财富:首先,请谈谈几年前你刚开始研究uBeam时的情形。发明的过程是什么样的?

  Meredith Perry: To create something really new is extremely difficult, because theres no protocol. I cant Google it online and find, These are the steps that need to be taken, or, When somebody created something similar, these are the questions they asked, these are the people they talked to, and these are the materials they used. Sometimes you have to create your own materials, your own design, your own manufacturing process. You have to create your own shipping materials that can cover the parts that you built. And we were building all of these tiny little devices by hand. We 3-D-printed tools that were useful in creating these devices. For example, we needed a holder that could hold a certain amount of micro beads. So thats the level of minutiae you have to get involved with in order to actually execute on something that hasnt been done before.

  梅雷迪斯o佩里:发明某个全新的东西是极为困难的,因为没有原型可以参考。不是说你在谷歌上一搜索,就会显示需要采取如下步骤,或者当某人发明了类似的东西时,他们问了这几个问题,咨询了那几个人,这些是他们用过的材料。有时你必须创造你自己的材料、你自己的设计以及生产工艺。而且你的材料必须涵盖你要制造的零部件。这些小设备当时都是我们手工制作的。有些对发明这些设备有益的工具,则是采用3D技术打印的。比如,我们需要制作一个容器来放一定量的微珠。为了完成某件从前没有人做过的事情,你必须要做好这些微小的细节。

  In the beginning I looked at every possible option. I just wanted to solve a problem. And that was: I dont want to plug in my laptop anymore. I want to be able to move around a room and use all my devices without plugging them in. And I learned that ultrasound was the only type of technology that would work for the experience we are trying to give, which is the Wi-Fi for charging.

  最开始,我几乎看过了每个可能的方案。我只是想解决一个问题,而那个问题就是:我不想再给我的笔记本电脑插电了。我想在一个房间里随时随地使用我的所有设备,而不用给它们充电。我了解到,超声波是唯一一种能够提供我们想要的无线充电体验的技术。

  Then I basically stopped at what materials we needed to make that happentheyre called transducers, which convert electrical energy into sound and sound back into electricity. I knew that for this project to work, I needed the right transducer, and a transmitter that needs to have this amount of power and be able to beam that power across the room and hit these targets, and so on.

  然后,我基本上停顿在这种技术所需要的材料上这种材料叫做换能器,它可以把电能转化成声波,再把声波转化为电能。我知道这个项目要想成功,必须要有正确的换能器,另外还得有一个能发射足够额度电能的发射机,等等。

  And that existed already?

  这些是否已经有了?

  Yes, transducers are used in speakers. And thats effectively what uBeam is: a speaker. To make sound, in general you plug in a speaker, which is a bunch of sonic transducers. And were using ultrasonic transducers, which is sound above what you can hear. So when you plug in a speaker, youre taking electricity from a wall, and the electricity is converted into sound, and that sound travels through the air. Youre converting electrical energy into acoustic energy. So that already exists. But a speaker is radiating out sound in 360 degrees, and youre not going to get that much power from sound unless you focus it. So you have to do the same thing you would do with a laser beam, or with a light bulbyou take the energy and funnel it into a cone. But were not physically focusing it, were digitally focusing it. So we had to create a transmitter that digitally focuses sound to get enough power out of our ultrasonic speaker across the room. So the whole concept of uBeam worked because I knew that transducers existed. It was just a matter of thinking about sound as a form of energy, which people dont often think about.

  是的,换能器被用在扬声器中。而且其实uBeam本质上就是个扬声器。为了发出声波,你要先给一个扬声器通电,这个扬声器包含了很多声波换能器。我们使用的是超声波换能器,它的音频是人耳听不到的。所以当你把这个扬声器通电后,你可以从墙上的电源获得电力,然后电力会被转化为声波,声波会在空气中运动,这样你就把电能变成了声能。这种技术已经存在了。但是扬声器是360度辐射的,这样散射的声波没法产生足够的能量,除非你让它集中起来。所以你要做的事情就是像激光或电灯一样,要用一个漏斗体让它聚焦。但我们并没有采用物理设备让它聚焦,而是利用数字技术让它聚焦。所以我们必须构建一个能令声音进行数字聚焦的发射机,让我们的超声波扬声器能发出足够的能量贯穿整个房间。所以uBeam的理念之所以有效,就是因为我知道换能器是存在的。所以你只需要把声波想成一种能量即可,只是人们通常想不到这一点。

  Anyway. Im kind of going into weird details about this.

  关于这个东西我好像说得太过细节了,听起来有点奇怪吧。

  No, its fascinating. Lets talk more about the general process. What was your work method?

  不,它非常有意思。让我们多说说它的一般程序。你的工作方法是怎样的?

  Well, back in 2012, we had raised a bunch of money, I had this whole plan planned out, but it was extremely difficult because I was working with only contractors. Up until a few months ago, even. Until we raised our Series A [funding round, totaling $10 million and led by Upfront Ventures] we didnt have any full-time employees except me. So what I did was broke apart the technology into its pieces. I had people working on the transmitter, and there are the electronics behind the transmitter, so I contracted people to create the electronics behind the transmitter. Then I did tons and tons of research to figure out, What is the most powerful, in-air, ultrasonic transducer I can get? There are a zillion different types of ultrasonic transducers. Most are made for medical purposes, like sonograms. Then there are people that have designed transducers for cars, like when you back up and you hear the beep beep. Then there are transducers you use underwater for sonar, like on a submarine. I needed to figure out which is the best transducer I can use that will beam power through the air. And of course, nothing had been created before that was even close.

  在2012年的时候,我们融到了不少资金,我已经有了整个计划,但整个过程还是极为艰难的,因为当时我只能与承包商合作。甚至一直到几个月之前还是这样。一直到A轮融资结束(该公司获得了由Upfront Ventures公司领投的1000万美金),除了我自己以外,我们甚至连一名全职员工都没有。所以我只好把技术分成一块一块的。有人专门做发射机,发射机后面还有一些电子元件,所以我又跟人签了合同,让他们去做发射机后面的电子元件。然后我做了大量的研究,试图找出我能获得的最强大的超声波换能器。超声波换能器的种类数不胜数,大多数都用于医疗用途,比如超声波扫描。另外还有人设计了汽车用的超声换能器,比如倒车雷达。还有一些是用于水下定位的,比如潜艇用的那种。我需要确定哪种换能器是我需要的,也就是能够通过空气传递能量。当然,在此之前从来没有人做出过哪怕与它比较接*的东西。

  There was one type of transducer that came out of a university, and it was kind of close, all we had to do was change this, this, and this, and theoretically we should be able to output the power we need using this design so I contracted the people that wrote those papers to design those transducers. Then I needed someone to design the transmitter transducer, but I also needed someone else to design the receiver transducer, which would capture the energy. So I had individual people working on individual parts of the system.

  有一个大学做过一种换能器,它算是比较接*了,但是我们也得对它改了又改。理论上我们可以通过这个设计传递能量所以我联系了这些论文的作者,请他们设计这些换能器。然后我需要有人设计发射换能器,同时我也需要有人来设*邮栈荒芷鳌K晕沂侨貌煌娜死瓷杓葡低车牟煌糠帧

  It sounds almost like an assembly line.

  听起来像一条组装线。

  Right. But it was very difficult because everybody was remote. That was the challenge of the way I set it up. But I could not get anyone to come on full-time. And I didnt necessarily need anyone to come on full-time, I just needed each person to finish their one part.

  是的,但这个过程很困难,因为每个人都离我很远。这也是我的工作方法所带来的挑战。但是我没法让任何人来全职工作,而且我也没有必要让任何人来全职工作,我只需要每个人完成他们那一部分就可以了。

  The part we couldnt crack was the transducer. It took us a total of 14 months working on that one particular problem.

  最难啃的骨头就是换能器,这个问题花了我们整整14个星期的时间。

  But that one part is the core engine, isnt it?

  但这个部分正是核心引擎,是吗?

  Well, for a system to function each part needs to work, but ultimately this piece is the heartbeat, yes.

  一个系统要想工作,每个零部件都得工作才行,但最终这个部分是它的心脏,所以是的。

  So then it makes sense that the transducer took the longest.

  所以说,换能器花了最长的时间是也有道理的。

  Yes, but I didnt realize just how hard it would be.

  是的,但当时我没意识到它会这么艰难。

  Had no one ever tried wireless charging before?

  之前没有人尝试过无线充电吗?

  Wireless charging as a category absolutely has been tried before and is being done by multiple parties using different technologies. But in terms of ultrasonic power, no. Anything that can be beamed through the air can be converted into a usable type of energy. So, people have tried laser for wireless power, but lasers can blind you. And then theres [Duracell] Powermat, which uses induction and is magnetic, so you stick your phone on a mat and it charges. I dont consider that true wireless power. Then with magnetic resonance coupling, which a company called WiTricity is using, its a totally viable technology but its only effective in charging really large objects over really short distances. If you want to charge something that way at a greater distance, you need receivers that are larger than the device youre charging, so theres a convenience issue.

  无线充电作为一种技术门类,当然肯定已经有人尝试过了,而且是被很多人使用很多不同的技术尝试过了。但在超声波这一块还没人尝试过。任何能被发射到空气中的东西都可以被转换为某种可用能源。因此人们已经尝试过用激光无线充电,但激光可以致盲。此外还有一家叫Powermat的公司使用了电磁技术,你可以把手机放在一张充电垫上实现充电。但我认为它还不是真正的无线充电。另外一家名叫WiTricity的公司还使用了电磁共振耦合技术,这也是一种完全具有可行性的技术,但它只在给距离很*的大型物体充电时才有效。如果你想在更远的距离上给设备充电,那么它的接收器要比你想充电的设备还要大。所以还存在一个便利性问题。

  So at the end of the day, ultrasound is the only technology that is safe, that can travel the distance, that can charge your device, while remaining small and compact. Ultrasonic is the only type of energy that can be commercialized for consumer devices.

  因此,归根到底,超声波是唯一一个既安全又可以远距离充电的技术,同时又可以保持设备的小巧紧凑。超声波是唯一一种能够用于消费电子产品的具有商用前景的无线充电技术。

  Well, with one hurdle being that it doesnt work through walls, like Wi-Fi does.

  但是它也有一个缺陷,就是没有办法像Wi-Fi那样穿墙。

  Well, its not necessarily a hurdle if you look at the positives. Its what makes ultrasound the most secure data transmission system in existence.

  不过,如果你看看它的好处的话,这也未必算一种缺陷。正是这种特性,使得超声波成为目前最安全的数据传输系统。

  But, pie-in-the-sky hope, youd want it to work through walls, right?

  但是你还是希望它能够穿墙的,对吗?

  Oh, of course. But its physically impossible. If it were possible, I would take that over the secure data transmission. But even working in one room, think about where that can be applied. Not only within homes and rooms, but think about airports, conference halls, concerts. And you can charge an arbitrary number of devices at any time.

  当然,但它在物理上是不可能的。如果真有这种可能,我认为它可能会损害数据传输的安全性。但即便它只能在室内使用,你也不妨妨想想它的应用前景。它不仅可以在家庭和办公室使用,同时也可以用于机场、会议厅、音乐厅等等。而且你随时都可以给任意数量的设备充电。

  You first raised big funding when uBeam was in really early stages. Did you feel a lot of pressure and urgency?

  当uBeam还处于非常早期的研发阶段时,你就获得了融资。当时你的压力和紧迫感是否很大?

  There was a sense of insane urgency throughout the entire process. And I pushed and pushed and pushed, but you can only push so hard. I had set myself an artificial deadline, and I was continuously disappointed that I wasnt hitting that. But in speaking with people who had created new technologies before, they would say, Holy crap, you did that in two years? Thats incredibly short. In my mind, we were like dinosaurs already, but people who have actually experienced creating new technology before said this was actually pretty fast. But the process killed me. People would check in and ask our progress, but to explain what was actually taking so long would take hours.

  在整个过程中,我都有一种*似疯狂的紧迫感。我不断地向前推动它,但你能做的也就是用力推动它而已。我给自己设定了一个时间线,但由于无法满足它,因此我经常感到失望。但是在与发明过新技术的人聊天时,他们会说:天哪,你用了两年就把它做出来了?时间短得令人难以置信。在我看来,我们花的时间像恐龙时代一样漫长,不过对于那些真正经历过发明创造的人来说,他们会觉得这个过程已经很快了。但是这个过程痛苦死了。人们会过来问我们的进展,但是光要解释哪个流程要花这么长时间,就得花上几个小时。

  Was that frustrating?

  这个过程令人沮丧吗?

  Of course. And the other thing is that throughout the process, I always thought, Okay, its going to work in three months. Weve got this great new idea to make this transducer function. So instead of giving someone an update Id say Ill tell you in one month. But then wed fail, and then wed say we will make a certain change, and then it will work, and that happened about five times. It took about three months to make each change. It was extraordinarily expensive every single time we wanted to make a change to the device. And the lag time was mind-boggling. When you fail five times but you take tiny steps forward each time, it keeps you going. You can stay positive because theres still light at the end of the tunnel. But at the same time, it really wears you down. You constantly have to think, Okay, so if this next option doesnt work, what will we do? And you just cant stop until you accomplish your goal. What really kept me going through the entire process was, Even though this is so hard, its still possible. And I knew that if it was still possible, I had to do it, because it would be so huge. I know that if I was working on something smaller, or something that I didnt believe could make such an impact on the world then I wouldnt have been able to keep going through those times.

  当然。这种沮丧感贯穿整个研发过程,我总是想:好吧,三个月里就会见效果,我们已经有了很好的新点子来让这个换能器出效果。所以有人问时,我不会马上给他反馈,而是说我会在一个月内告诉你。不过后来我们失败了,然后我们会说,我们要做一些改变,这样它就能出效果。这种情况大概重复了五次,每次改变都需要三个月的时间。每次我们想对设备做出某种改变,代价都是极为高昂的。而且它拖延的时间也是非常长的。当你失败了五次,但每次都取得了某些微小的进步时,它依然促使着你继续前进,你仍然可以保持乐观,因为前方已经出现曙光了。但与此同时,它也的确令你感到心力交瘁。你会不停地想:如果下次还不成功,我们该怎么办?在最终实现你的目标之前,你根本停不下来。真正使我熬过整个过程的是这种想法:尽管它很难,但它是可能实现的。我知道只要它是可能的,我就必须做下去,因为它是一件意义非常重大的事。如果我做的是某件稍小的事,或是某件我觉得不会对全世界产生如此大影响的事,那么在这些时候,我可能就坚持不下去了。

  So one of our contractors we brought on, who is is now our CTO, created an entirely new type of transducer during our 14-month marathon of death it ended up working on the first try. We were running out of money. We had two designs running in parallel, and we knew one of them had to work or wed be screwed. In the end, both designs worked, but his was so much cheaper and so much more powerful that we went with his.

  最后,我们的一位承包商,也就是我们的现任CTO,经过长达14个月的死亡马拉松,终于开发出一种全新的换能器。当时我们已经没有资金了,我们同时在测试两个设计,我们知道其中一个必须成功,否则的话,我们就彻底玩完了。最后,两个设计都成功了,但他的设计要便宜得多,也强大得多,所以最后我们采用了他的方案。

  Take me to the moment when the prototype worked successfully, if there was one big moment.

  说说原型产品成功的那一刻,如果存在某个重要时刻的话。

  It was when our CTOs transducer worked. To paint the picture of what life was like at that time: for six and a half months, from December 2013 through June 2014, I was basically living in the tiny garage of my CTO in northern Virginia. It was the worst winter of my entire life, and we spent 10 hours a day just like little Foxconn workers in this garage with no windows, breathing in toxic fumes and trying to get this thing to work over and over and over again.

  那就是我们CTO的换能器开始奏效那一刻。我给你描绘一下我在那段时日的生活状态:从2013年12月到2014年6月的六个半月里,我基本上都是住在我们公司CTO那间位于在北弗吉尼亚的小车库里。那是我整个人生中最糟糕的一个冬季,我们就像富士康工厂的工人一样,每天要在那间没有窗户的小车库里工作10小时,呼吸着有毒的气体,一遍又一遍地反复尝试。

  It was either in April or May when we tested out the hybrid, it worked, and I literally screamed for joy. I had the biggest smile on my face because I knew that the future was bright. We knew it was real, its going to work, we proved the last piece that we needed to prove.

  到了四月或五月,我们终于测试了最后的产品,而且它成功了,毫不夸张地说,我快乐得尖叫了起来。我的脸上挂着最大的笑容,因为我知道前途是光明的。我们知道这是真的,它会成功的,我们验证了需要验证的最后一步。

  And now we all just wait for it to come out.

  现在我们都在等它上市销售。

  Yes. Most of the world still doesnt know about this, which is awesome. So were going to release it when we release it, and itll be something completely new, and I think that the world will be delighted by the experience.

  是的,全世界大多数人还不知道它,但它的确很赞。所以我们会选择合适的时机举行发布会,它会成为一种全新的技术,我认为全世界都会因为这种体验而感到兴奋。

  Looking toward the future, what are some of other existing or eventual technologies that excite and interest you?

  放眼未来,在现有或可能出现的技术中,有哪些让你兴奋或感兴趣?

  There are a few. And Ill try to be quick because I get a little too excited. They span between health and transportation and 3-D holograms. So, last year I got really into the idea of creating 3-D, touchable holograms in the air using fog. I wanted to create a system where you could be sitting next to somebody who is in China but could actually touch them, see them, feel them. I built a bunch of hologram machines, which was cool.

  有一些。我会快点说,因为我有点太兴奋了。这些技术主要在健康、运输和3D全息技术领域。去年我对利用光雾效果建立3D全息影像的技术非常感兴趣。我想构建这样一个系统:你坐在这里,而你旁边那个人其实身在中国,但你可以触摸他、看到他、感觉他。我制造了很多全息投影仪,它们也很酷。

  Is this different from the Tupac hologram at Coachella in 2012?

  它与2012年科切拉音乐节上已故歌手图派克的全息投影有什么区别吗?

  Yeah. This would actually be a three-dimensional display, not just a projection. Thats one thing, the other is I think that people should have some kind of embedded blood sensor that reads your levels continuously. To me, its kind of crazy that only once people feel really crappy, they go to a doctor and find out whats wrong with them. Why dont we have some sensor built into the body that lets you know before you feel ill, and ultimately, is connected to an embedded dispensary that can put sugar into your body if your glucose is low? You basically would have an external, but embedded, automatic system that regulates your body.

  是的,有区别。它是真正的三维影像,而不仅仅是一个投影。另一种技术是,我觉得人们应该在身体里植入某种*传感器,不间断地监测你的体征指标。现在人们只有在很难受的时候才去看医生。为什么我们不在身体里植入一个传感器,在症状显现出来之前就给我们发送警报呢?另外,这个传感器还可以与嵌入式药箱搭配使用,比如说当人体处于低糖状态时,它就会自动向身体提供糖分。也就是说,你会有一个外部的,但同时又是嵌入式的自动化系统来管理你的身体健康。

  This sound like the first step in making us all half-robot, though

  这听起来像是人体半机器人化的第一步。

  Right! Yes. What I think is crazy is we have so much data and insight into our digital world, but we have no insight into whats actually going on inside the most important system of all, our bodies. And then, finally, curing cancer is a big one. If its not curable, we need to make MRI machines that detect lumps and growths much smaller than what they can detect right now. Part of the reason we detect cancer at stages where its a little too late is that the machines that detect cancer can only see lumps of a certain size. If we were able to detect cancerous growths at a size smaller, we could stop it earlier on. So instead of curing it maybe what we need to do is use machines to catch it much earlier.

  是的!对于我们的数码世界,我们已经有了很多数据和见解,但对于最重要的系统,也就是我们的身体,我们却没有足够的认识。最后,治愈癌症也是一件大事。如果癌症是无法根治的,那么我们也可以研制新型的核磁共振仪,在肿瘤比现在小得多的时候探测到它们的存在。目前癌症一检查出来经常就是晚期,主要原因就在于现有的设备只能看到一定大小的肿瘤。如果我们能探测到更小尺寸的肿瘤,我们就可以更早地阻止它。所以说,与其想办法根治它,或许我们应该做的是利用机器更早地捕捉它。

  Many of these ideas you likewouldnt they scare most people? Its all very Isaac Asimov.

  很多你喜欢的点子会不会吓到多数人?它们听起来很有阿西莫夫的风格。

  Ive thought about how to implement this. Speaking for myself, I never want to go to the dentist, I never want to go to the various doctors. So if someone told me to implant something in my body, as a futurist, Id be down, but as a citizen I would think it is annoying. And maybe scary. So I think its something that needs to be done when youre super young with the guidance of a pediatrician. We could just get in the habit of, once youre born, when youre two years old or something, you get this thing implanted and you grow up with it and it becomes part of your life. People are just scared of things that theyre not used to.

  我已经想过怎样实施这些点子了。说到我自己,我从来不喜欢看牙医,也从来不喜欢看医生。所以如果有人让我往身体里植入一个东西,作为一个未来主义者,我可能被说服;但作为一个普通人,我会觉得这样做很讨厌,甚至有些吓人。所以我认为这种事情应该在人非常小的时候,在儿科医生的指导下完成。我们以后可能养成这种*惯,也就是出生后,大约两岁大的时候,你就会被植入这种东西,然后带着它长大,它会成为你人生的一部分。人们只不过是对自己不*惯的东西感到恐惧。(财富中文网)


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