EMBEDDED WORLD    APRIL 9-11      WE’LL BE THERE

SPARK Microsystems is proudly headquartered in Montreal, and we celebrate our roots here! More importantly, we take care to help cultivate these roots. Today, our local technology ecosystem is blossoming.

The semiconductor business opportunity in Canada continues to flourish, thanks in large part to our talented and enthusiastic peers and partners in the Canadian tech, academic and investor communities. We share great aspirations to make Canada’s tech sector among the world’s great technology hubs.

To help achieve this, the team at SPARK Microsystems thinks in global terms, for important reasons. 

One, we believe UWB can be, should be and will be the short-range, mobile-optimized wireless platform of choice globally going forward – the next evolution beyond Bluetooth, and likewise a household name. 

Ambitious? We believe in our technology. And we think big! It’s genuinely invigorating to wake up each day with a passion to perfect technology that can improve connectivity for everyone and help sustain the environment. Our global customers embrace our passion, and likewise we embrace theirs. 

Second, experience shows us that technology and business acumen can derive from anywhere in the world, and SPARK endeavors to find it! SPARK is fortunate to draw talent and perspective from around the globe. Together we strategize for Canada’s success in semiconductor design and manufacturing, leveraging Canada’s strengths—a rich talent pool, clean energy, modern infrastructure and an expansive network of leadership and support throughout education and government. Working together we can catalyze the sector’s growth. 

CANADA’S INAUGURAL SEMICONDUCTOR SUMMIT

We’re also guided to think globally when it comes to the semiconductor technology and supply chain ecosystem. This was one of the major themes underlining the recent inaugural meeting of Canada’s Semiconductor Council (CSC), which SPARK  is proud to help lead. Our own Frederic Nabki serves as an advisory board member to help CSC with its mission to accelerate the growth and development of Canada’s semiconductor sector.

Gathering together key industry and government decision-makers from Canada and the US, Canada’s Semiconductor Summit helped establish priorities and define opportunities to enhance the competitiveness of Canada’s semiconductor sector in the context of tectonic shifts reshaping the global economy. The CSC acknowledges some important new realities. In their own words:

“As manufacturing reshores and semiconductors eclipse oil as the 21st century’s vital commodity, Canada is taking its place as a critical link in the North American semiconductor ecosystem. The US Chips and Science Act’s $53B US investment in American capacity is recalibrating market dynamics—and Canada’s Semiconductor sector is poised for growth.”

The anticipated influx of system design talent and fabrication capacity into Canada will be great for the tech ecosystem and local economy (and for SPARK, it expands opportunities for our successful fabless semi business model). This is important stuff with local and global ramifications. The CSC is out in front of it, and SPARK is proud to support its mission.

IoT & THE ‘AI BOOM’

One of the central themes at Canada’s Semiconductor Summit focused on the role AI advancements will play in transforming the technology ecosystem for the semiconductor market and beyond, with major implications for the IoT and smart infrastructure. IoT-optimized chips and devices are poised for tremendous growth, leveraging the combined strengths of efficient processing and low-latency connectivity to achieve real-time responsiveness. 

This synergy is essential for optimizing latency chains from end to end. In IoT applications, the integration of SPARK’s UWB technology can ensure seamless, instantaneous communication and monitoring critical for sensors, smart devices and autonomous systems.

SPARK UWB’s extreme low power profile is such that a SPARK-enabled IoT device can transmit sensor data and status updates wirelessly leveraging energy harvesting techniques only. No batteries or wires required.

For short-range wireless IoT apps, SPARK UWB provides a high-throughput data pipe with sub-millisecond latency and minimal power consumption. It’s easy to envision how advanced technologies like AI-caliber processing and real-time, UWB wireless transmission could be paired to benefit the IoT in the future. 

Canada’s unique AI opportunity was likewise highlighted in this recent, excellent, three-part article from EE Times focused on the need for cultivating Canada’s chip industry talent. The author’s perspective, and the industry perspective shared within, is in close alignment with CSC’s viewpoint: As the global semiconductor market evolves, Canada is uniquely poised to play a growing leadership role. 

With a wealth of talent percolating through our universities and incubators, and a growing emphasis on mentorship, specially adapted curriculums, and university/industry collaboration, Canada can be more responsive to rapidly evolving technology trends and market demands. 

Through SPARK’s participation in the CSC, we hope to inspire continued investment in Canada’s greatest resource: its people. Per SPARK’s Fred Nabki, likewise featured in the EE Times three-part series (part 3):

“We have all the raw matter and brainpower we need to do as good a job as any country on this planet at becoming a powerhouse of semiconductors,” he said. “We have everything we need, but we need to be energized.”

The Canadian semiconductor opportunity is growing fast and the time to act is now. In conjunction with Canada’s Semiconductor Council, SPARK is working hard to energize this effort. 

For news and information about the CSC, visit canadassemiconductorcouncil.com

CES bills itself as “the most powerful tech event in the world” and it’s easy to see why.

CES 2024 was an incredibly successful event for SPARK Microsystems and the tech industry at large, energized by attendees from all over the world gathered in Las Vegas to glimpse into the future of groundbreaking consumer technologies. Entire product categories have been revolutionized by the innovations previewed at earlier CES events, and CES 2024 attendees witnessed another revolution in the making.

SPARK UWB technology is transforming short-range wireless communication applications. Ultra-wideband connectivity is no longer an emerging technology. It has emerged.

The benefits delivered with SPARK UWB are real and they are impressive. And they’re being commercialized today, evidenced by the abundance of SPARK customers exhibiting their innovations at CES this year!

A NEW PERFORMANCE BENCHMARK FOR GAMING

In the gaming and esports domain, multiple hardware vendors were on hand at CES 2024 to showcase the next evolution in their product portfolios – innovations made possible by SPARK UWB. Featured among these vendors, XPGPrimax and iONE previewed a range of high-performance gaming mice, keyboards and gaming headsets coming soon for hardcore gamers hungry to take their gaming to the next level. 

SPARK UWB breaks the performance barrier for wireless gaming peripherals by delivering polling rate performance up to 8,000 Hz, and 0.15 ms latency data transfer, both crucial for gaming performance. In the gaming arena, this ensures that players stay perfectly in sync with the on-screen action for faster responsiveness and superior gaming performance. Additionally, SPARK features an extremely low power profile to help ensure long uptime between device charges for uninterrupted gameplay.

XPG is building an entire ecosystem of UWB-connected gaming devices, leveraging SPARK UWB technology to deliver superior gameplay responsiveness from mouse to keyboard to headset – all of which deliver a new level of gaming performance that’s unachievable with legacy Bluetooth and proprietary 2.4 GHz wireless connectivity. 

Gaming devices combining the freedom of wireless connectivity with the performance attributes of wired devices are a huge win for gamers seeking to sharpen their competitive edge. What’s more, they foretell a future for AR/VR device connectivity – from smart glasses to wearables – whereby users can be enveloped in a personal ‘bubble’ network delivering high-throughput, low latency connectivity for a truly immersive, real-time XR experience

AMAZING AUDIO WITH UWB

Also at CES 2024, SPARK UWB was powering high-performance audio equipment, including – among others – the new Duetto active wireless speakers from Sonus Faber, the prestigious Italian manufacturer of handcrafted, high-end audio equipment. Visitors to SPARK’s CES suite got to hear the Duetto speakers for themselves, and the sound quality is second to none!

At the heart of the impeccably designed Duetto speaker system, you’ll find SPARK UWB technology enabling the high-performance, low latency wireless link between the two speakers. The system supports a range up to 8 meters for unfettered placement/positioning flexibility with no compromises in audio performance to ensure-wired like performance without the wires. And SPARK UWB technology sidesteps the interference and congestion issues inherent to 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. 

We were heartened to see UWB audio demonstrations elsewhere at CES, proof positive that the value UWB delivers is well understood by our peers in the tech industry. SPARK will continue to lead, and others will follow.

When it comes to audio, SPARK UWB transcends other UWB offerings in two important dimensions, the first of which is sound quality. In SPARK’s view, anything short of uncompressed, lossless audio is unacceptable for the next generation of wireless audio devices.  SPARK UWB’s chief value proposition in wireless audio is that it vastly outperforms the audio quality of the legacy Bluetooth devices that consumers have relied on for the last 20+ years.

The second imperative – the holy grail for any wireless device, particularly the mobile kind! – is power efficiency. Long uptime between charges is crucially important, and SPARK UWB’s extremely low power consumption gives it a natural advantage over legacy Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

In both of these areas – sound quality and power efficiency – CES demonstrations revealed that SPARK’s industry brethren in UWB tech still have some work to do. SPARK has set the UWB audio performance standard at 24 bits (stereo audio bit depths) and sample rates up to 96 kHz – with extremely low power drain. 

For a closer look at SPARK’s CES 2024 demonstrations, head on over to our YouTube channel where you’ll find previews of demos spanning gaming micesensor fusion enablementIoT connectivity and the Sonus Faber wireless speaker system.

It was a real delight to visit with attendees, customers and partners at CES 2024. It’s a great way to kick off the new year, and based on what we saw at CES, 2024 is going to be an exciting year!

Long time readers know that we like to celebrate innovation here at the SPARK Microsystems blog. When industry leaders come to market with bold new technology visions, it’s in our DNA to honor their achievements. 

Today, we’d like to celebrate another innovator and leader, and in this case, they are also a SPARK customer and collaborator.

Sonus Faber, the prestigious Italian manufacturer of handcrafted speakers, headphones, and other high-end audio equipment, recently announced its Duetto active wireless speakers to much fanfare. At the heart of these impeccably designed speakers, you’ll find SPARK UWB technology.

The Duetto speaker system arrives with a wealth of audio source inputs, including optical, HDMI and RCA/Phono, complemented with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to enable streaming from smartphones and other devices, with native support for the major streaming services and protocols.

Sonus Faber’s design team faced a major challenge, however, when it came to designing the communications link between the two independent speakers. Wired connectivity was ruled out immediately for these sleek, strictly wireless speakers, and Bluetooth and 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi are plagued with performance and interference issues. 

Sonus Faber’s designers surmounted this seemingly impossible challenge with SPARK UWB connectivity. It’s the only short-range wireless solution in commercial production today that’s capable of achieving high-quality, lossless audio delivery with imperceptible latency and immunity to the interference issues that arise with the abundance of 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi connected home devices.

A MAJOR INDUSTRY MILESTONE

Sonus Faber’s Duetto system is groundbreaking on multiple levels. For one thing, it’s the company’s very first active stereo wireless loudspeaker system, built upon 40 years of Sonus Faber high-fidelity audio engineering prowess. 

What’s more, the new Duetto wireless speakers sound exquisite. Resonant, pristine sound that’s faithful to the audio source – faithful to what the musicians and artists we love intended it to sound like. 

But don’t take our word for it, check out some of the headlines to emerge from the Duetto product launch! Here’s a headline that’s near and dear to SPARK’s heart, from Forbes: “Sonus Faber’s Duetto Active Wireless Speakers Are The Best Way To Listen Without Wires.”

The best way to listen without wires. This is SPARK’s calling card. SPARK UWB delivers the performance advantages of wired connectivity – high data throughput and ultra-low latency – wirelessly for the first time. And this is achieved at extremely low power.

Per Forbes senior contributing editor Mark Sparrow, “Active wireless speakers can sound a bit muddy, but the Duetto sound as good as any wired pair of speakers I’ve ever heard thanks to UWB.”

Thanks to SPARK UWB. That’s the other important thing that’s unique about Sonus Faber Duetto wireless speakers. This headline from Simon Cohen of Digital Trends says it all: “Sonus Faber’s Duetto are the first wireless speakers to use UWB.”

Per Simon, “Compared to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which are now household names, ultra-wideband (UWB) is an almost totally unknown technology. It’s understandable, as UWB is comparatively brand new. And yet, with its technical superiority over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for some applications, the Duetto might be the first to employ it, but won’t be the last.”

In other words, history has been made. To our knowledge, Sonus Faber’s Duetto wireless speaker system is the first commercially available audio product to leverage UWB technology. 

But it won’t be the last.

A NEW ERA IN AUDIO

We congratulate Sonus Faber for their technical achievement and vision. They have broken a major barrier in premium-quality, wireless audio delivery, and they’ve made history in the process. 

SPARK is proud to play a part in the Duetto design, enabling the high-performance, low latency wireless link between the two Duetto speakers, while sidestepping the interference and congestion issues inherent to 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. SPARK UWB enables audio bit depths up to 24 bits and sample rates up to 96 kHz wirelessly. There’s no compression or decompression needed or applied, and the raw audio data is transmitted with latency as low as 5 milliseconds to achieve pristine, high-quality lossless audio.

Readers interested in learning more about the recent Sonus Faber news are invited to check out the news coverage and reviews at ForbesDigital TrendsAudioXpressTechRadarWhat HiFi?ecoustics and elsewhere around the web. 

Watch this space, SPARK blog readers. History is being made here.

We’ve spent a lot of time articulating the many benefits of SPARK UWB technology here at this blog. It’s high time we showed you the technology in action!

We’re delighted to share a library of video demonstrations showcasing SPARK UWB technology for a wide range of industrial and consumer applications. Beginning with an Introduction to SPARK Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology, this video series helps visualize the myriad advantages delivered with SPARK UWB short-range wireless connectivity: High data rates, ultra-low latency and precise positioning/ranging – all with extremely low power consumption. 

What do we mean exactly when we talk about extreme low power? Check out this Battery-less, Wireless Sensor demonstration with our partner UBITO featuring a door/window-mounted sensor that wirelessly communicates status updates (position, temperature and time) using power harvested solely from the mechanical motion of the door or window opening and closing. Get a close-up view of the transmit and receive (T/R) units operating on only 75 nanojoules of energy – no batteries required.

For an up-close look at a next-generation Wireless IoT Sensor, we offer a demonstration showing a SPARK UWB-powered IoT sensor transmitting positioning, distance/range and light exposure data to a video monitor display. Every movement of the sensor is monitored and visualized in real time. 

Proximity Sensing demonstration highlights SPARK UWB’s low power proximity detection and sensing capabilities leveraging a SPARK reference platform that consumes a mere 50 microwatts of power. The dynamic proximity data is visualized in real time, and it’s a delight for anyone who’s ever envisioned next generation access and control apps – vehicle and e-bike keys, for example – whereby two devices can sense the distance between each other with precision accuracy.

You’ll also find a demonstration of SPARK UWB High Data Rate capabilities featuring two smartphones exchanging high quality, real-time video feeds over a high bandwidth UWB wireless link at a rate of 6 megabits per second. When was the last time you did this using Bluetooth? Trick question. You can’t. And compared to Wi-Fi, the UWB approach consumes a lot less power. 

Featured among the videos is a gaming mouse platform delivering polling rates of up to 8,000 samples per second with the requisite latency that competing technologies simply can’t achieve – lower than 400 microseconds, which is comparable to the optical sensor itself. In this SPARK UWB Gaming Mouse demonstration, you see the 8K Hz polling rate visualized in real time as the mouse changes position – with the hardware reference design that makes it possible. 

With our new Audio Headset demonstration, you’ll get a great look at our reference platform, but the audio quality advantage is best understood when you hear it for yourself! Amazing-sounding, lossless audio quality can now be achieved without wires, and you don’t have to be an audiophile to appreciate all that you’ve been missing up until now with legacy Bluetooth wireless audio.

The Audio Headset demo illustrates the way forward for achieving audio bit depths up to 24 bits and sample rates up to 96 kHz wirelessly. There’s no compression or decompression needed or applied, and the raw audio data is transmitted with latency as low as 5 milliseconds. SPARK UWB makes this possible.

Not only is this good news for music fans, it’s good news for musicians themselves! Check out the Wireless Musical Instruments demonstration, featuring a UWB-equipped electric guitar outputting wirelessly to an amplifier with no discernible latency lags or sound quality compromises.  This makes it possible for musicians to practice and perform without physical cables encumbering their movement.

For innovative product designers eager to leverage the SPARK UWB advantage, we invite you to get started today! To this end, we’ve also featured a SPARK UWB Evaluation Kit demonstration video that showcases the design features and components included within, targeted for apps like high-quality audio and ranging. The Evaluation Kit also equips you to configure and customize wireless link properties – including payload, packet data rates and more – optimized for your specific target app. 

Be sure to visit and follow our YouTube channel for the full library of SPARK video demonstrations, and plan ahead to visit with us at CES 2024 for a closer look at SPARK UWB in action via live demos and much more!

We’ve devoted a lot of digital ink here at the SPARK blog recently on the topic of gaming and esports hardware, particularly gaming mice. It’s a topic we’re passionate about, and our customers are super excited about it too! 

In a relatively brief span of time, they’ve watched as SPARK UWB has leveled the playing field to make wireless gaming mice truly – finally! – performance competitive with wired mice at polling rates up to 8,000 Hz. And our customers have watched with great interest as gamers themselves begin to take heed of the important latency advantages that SPARK UWB delivers to complement and amplify the polling rate benefit. 

Our customers’ enthusiasm for UWB innovation in gaming peripherals is infectious. For these vendors – as with their customers, the gamers – SPARK UWB is breaking stubborn barriers that have stymied high performance, competitive gaming for far too long. 

Among the longstanding gripes that SPARK UWB has arrived to solve: The frustrating congestion and signal interference that continues to haunt narrowband Bluetooth and proprietary 2.4 GHz implementations.

HIGH TRAFFIC, HIGH FRUSTRATION

It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that gamers have had to contend with persistent interference issues when it comes to wireless mice, headsets, etc. 

Wireless gaming devices operating at 2.4 GHz contend with significant RF congestion and interference in what is essentially a tiny slice of frequency band – one that’s already overcrowded with wide varieties of Wi-Fi devices and also non-Wi-Fi (802.11) devices including microwave ovens, security cameras, fluorescent lights, cordless phones – it’s a pretty long list. 

uwb-spectrum-graph

It’s easy to illustrate how intrusive Wi-Fi networks can be to surrounding Wi-Fi networks. Gamers and non-gamers alike – particularly city-dwellers – are quite used to picking up (strong!) Wi-Fi signals from our surrounding neighbors, and commercial Wi-Fi hotspots as well.

When a big game is on the line, can gamers trust that their short-range wireless connections won’t bend or break under these conditions? A lot of them don’t because they’ve learned the hard way that signal interference can cause sudden catastrophe.

Bluetooth, of course, also resides in this congested narrow band and struggles with many of the same issues when it comes to gaming peripheral connectivity. Inherent to Bluetooth is the assumption that there’s often several Bluetooth products trying to compete in the same spectrum – the data rate that Bluetooth can deliver is therefore limited by design

We salute Bluetooth for being the first platform to free us from the constraints of wired gaming mice, and the freedom of movement that entails. But Bluetooth wasn’t intended to be a high-performance wireless gaming option. It’s prone to signal drops and connection loss, and the performance is merely adequate.

2.4 GHz delivers good performance with relatively good signal stability when compared to Bluetooth, but there’s major compromises elsewhere. 2.4 GHz also means much faster battery drain than Bluetooth – and potentially up to 10X faster power drain than what SPARK UWB enables.

SMALLER ‘BUBBLES’

In the future, we predict that for individual consumers – not just gamers, but everyone – the value we’ve put on widening our personal wireless connectivity radius will shift to emphasize the value of shortening these connections for many apps.  For gamers, this helps to ensure limited interference from the get-go, among other important benefits. Privacy, for example, is a growing concern for device users/wearers, and short-range (10m), high-performance SPARK UWB helps answer these challenges in part by limiting the size of our personal ‘bubbles’. 

Unconfined by narrowband limitations – the congestion, the interference – SPARK is putting the “short” back in short-range wireless for the apps that benefit the most. Gamers today and tomorrow (particularly as AR/VR takes hold) will benefit tremendously as our personal area networks (PANs) are supercharged for gaming and entertainment performance that only SPARK UWB can deliver. 

For more information about SPARK’s innovations in gaming and esports devices, we invite you to visit our Applications page.