New delay for OCube shipments

This morningĀ I received the following e-mail from Steorn:

Hello, firstly we would like to apologize for the delay to shipping your ocube. As we are sure you can appreciate, bringing the ocube to production has been a huge task for us all and we are grateful for your support.
We have shipped two ocubes and have received reports back that the lithium ion battery in the devices is charging to somewhere in the region of 8V, which is well in excess of the safe level of 4.2V. As a result, we have had to halt any further shipments while we address this. We are currently testing a new configuration with a battery charge controller; these tests are expected to take another several days. Once we are satisfied that the units are operating as they should we will provide another update concerning shipping etc.

We appreciate your patience and understanding while we work to resolve this issue.
Best regards
The Orbo Team

Originally it was stated that the OCube would be shipped “before Christmas”. That turned into “6/7 weeks after placing the order”. Problems with “paperwork and logistics” have turned that now into 9 weeks, in my case. And here we have a new delay, which could drag on for any length of time. This new problem echos the infamous 2007 Kinetica demo failure, in which Orbo broke down, not because it failed to work, but because it generated so much energy that its bearings overheated.

To my mind, there are several problems with this latest excuse of Steorn’s:

First, why has Steorn only shipped two OCubes? We’ve seen the photos of dozens if not hundreds of OCubes and their packages. If they were held up by paperwork and logistics (as they told me last week) or by a problem related to what product class the OCube would fall under for shipping regulations (as was rumored several days ago), then I would expect they would not ship any until these problems were resolved, and would then begin shipping in bulk. Why “test the waters” by shipping only two, unless they had very little confidence in their own internal testing to begin with?

Second, who were these two OCubes shipped to? We know of exactly one confirmed OCube shipment, to Frank Acland of This was a botched shipment of an incomplete OCube, that has proven both dysfunctional and, so far, impervious to being opened. Acland’s OCube did not even contain a Li-ion battery, and so is certainly not counted among the two that Steorn says had their battery charged to an excessive voltage. Here we find a definite inaccuracy in Steorn’s statement: If Acland’s OCube is being counted among the two shipped, then at least one of them did not report back excessive voltage; if it is not counted among them, then they shipped more than two.

Third, how can the OCube’s battery be charged to a voltage exceeding that of the 5 volts that the Orbo powerpack itself outputs? Steorn states that they will be adding a battery charge controller to address this problem. But they have already described two separate, contradictory methods by which the voltage output by the Orbo powerpack is supposed to be limited. In the October shareholder video, Shaun McCarthy explained the purpose of each component that makes up an OCube. Connected between the Orbo powerpack and the Li-ion battery is a voltage regulator, put in place to ensure that the Li-ion battery receives 5 volt input, because the Orbo powerpack “produces unusual voltage output”. In a video published December 9th to Steorn’s Facebook page, McCarthy states that the voltage output of an Orbo power cell is directly proportional to the surface area of the material within the cell. A single power cell is designed with enough surface area to allow it to output 2.5v; two power cells connected in series will output 5v. The OCube therefore has been said to have two different methods of limiting the voltage that is sent to its Li-ion battery to 5v… and yet it’s still managing to charge the battery to 8v?

Finally, how did Steorn fail to catch this problem earlier? They’ve said that they have been working with the solid state Orbo for two years, they’ve been running field tests of the OCube since at least last May, and they’ve had the current batch of OCubes in their possession since December, just waiting to be shipped out, and in testing for at least part of that time. How they could manage to miss a problem of this magnitude in all that time, I can’t even speculate.

As is their way, Steorn has once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s all too easy to see this as just their latest creative delay tactic, designed to hold off any real testing of their claims for another few weeks, or months, or years, after putting on a show designed to bilk more money from their investors. Despite Hanlon’s Razor, it’s hard to imagine the conspiracy of incompetence that would have been necessary to catch such a major problem so late in the game, after just one OCube has been confirmed shipped, a dysfunctional one at that, to a highly visible customer.

I hope that I’m overreacting, and that this latest hiccup will be all cleared up within a week or two. I hope this isn’t the start of another long cycles of delays and unfulfilled promises.

The Steorn adventure continues.

3 thoughts on “New delay for OCube shipments

  1. I love your blog about the Orbo/OCube. I’m just waiting to see it succumb to the laws of thermodynamics…

    as far as lithium batteries @8V go, if they are buying standard cells that would be found in a cell phone or other portable electronics device, it is not physically possible to charge them to 8V. The chemistry doesn’t work that way. Additionally, applying 8V will cause the batteries to explode. See a really good write-up here:

    The ONLY way they could be getting 8V is if they have two lithium batteries in series (which they are then trying to regulate down to 5V for the USB port), but then 8V wouldn’t be a problem, now would it…

    • First, son, let me say that I don’t think that you know what you’re talking about. However, you do bring up something interesting with the two batteries possibility. Someone on the page also speculated about the possibility that the voltage limiting device may have accidentally been set for a two-battery set-up, in the comments section of the most recent post. I wonder if they have some other device that uses two batteries and they accidentally swapped the voltage limiting devices…

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