MWC BARCELONA    26 – 29 FEBRUARY      WE’LL BE THERE

All eyes were on Apple for the recent launch of its much-anticipated Vision Pro headset, and Apple gave the media, consumers, competitors, industry watchers – everyone – a lot to talk about!

As with previous Apple device introductions (iPod, iPhone, iPad – all were historic in their own right), the new Vision Pro is an engineering marvel in multiple dimensions. The impossibly sophisticated technology that’s been carefully integrated within the Apple Vision Pro is seriously impressive. Its capabilities – too numerous to detail here – are a testament to Apple’s innovation in, what it calls, spatial computing.

WHAT IS SPATIAL COMPUTING?

In Apple’s own words: “Just as the Mac introduced us to personal computing, and iPhone introduced us to mobile computing, Apple Vision Pro introduces us to spatial computing. [The Apple Vision Pro] seamlessly blends digital content with the physical world…[it] lets users interact with digital content in a way that feels like it is physically present in their space.”

In practical terms, spatial computing enables an immersive computing and entertainment experience displayed on the screen in front of the users eyes, complemented with a spatial audio capability for positioning-aware sound (speech controls are also included). An endless array of App Store apps and content will become available in the months and years ahead to support richly interactive and seamlessly blended AR/MR experiences. 

Interestingly, Apple never mentioned “VR” or “virtual reality” anywhere in its Vision Pro press release or news event – it’s understood that despite the VR-ish look and feel of the maiden Vision Pro, Apple has its sights carefully trained on the future of augmented reality (AR). Many already feel that AR smart glasses and headsets are the sweet spot for XR, and future editions of Apple’s Vision Pro will surely grow iteratively lighter, sleeker and less power hungry.

In the meantime, the design constraints Apple’s engineering team encountered in creating the Vision Pro were/are all too familiar to competing AR/VR device makers like Meta, Microsoft and others. Vision Pro uptime is currently limited to two hours per charge, and users must also wear a wired, discrete battery pack for mobile use. 

Power efficiency remains the elusive holy grail for AR/VR device manufacturers, and technology innovations that preserve battery life will no doubt be warmly embraced for future products. At the short-range connectivity layer, advanced technologies like SPARK UWB hold the potential to help future wearable AR/VR devices dramatically reduce power consumption as well as battery size and weight.  

The concept of spatial computing itself is likely to evolve as technologies like UWB are introduced into future generations of AR/VR glasses and headsets. The gesture controls currently onboard Apple’s Vision Pro are reliant on outward facing cameras that recognize users’ hand and finger motions – provided they’re in the camera’s line of sight.  These cameras are both costly and inefficient in power usage.

Spatial computing, fully realized, could one day allow 360 degree, real time position sensing for tomorrow’s wearable sensors and controls. In this paradigm, the action will no longer be confined to what’s in front of us – the action can be all around us, moving unfettered as our limbs, hands and fingers naturally move. SPARK UWB, with its high data throughput, low latency, low power and positioning is very well suited to enable real time synchronization and control capabilities to make this vision a reality. 

APPLE MOVES MARKETS

The first edition of Apple’s Vision Pro spatial computing devices is noteworthy both in terms of the capabilities enabled and the signal Apple is sending to the market with the device’s introduction. Apple is fully committed to AR, and Vison Pro “1.0” is just the beginning. 

Apple had to start somewhere, and the Vision Pro is an amazing start. What does the future look like for the Vison Pro? In the words of one market watcher: “They know that the technology is going to get more compact, sleeker, and eventually they will be able to make a super sexy pair of glasses. I have no doubt. It’s going to be maybe two or three years away, maybe more than that, but they’ll get there.”

The SPARK Microsystems team salutes the Apple team for all that they’ve achieved with the Vision Pro – and all that can be achieved in AR, MR, XR innovation in the future.

For more information about SPARK’s innovations in AR/XR technology applications, we invite you to visit our Applications page.

The rise of esports-caliber wireless gaming mice has understandably focused gamers’ attention on the performance specs accompanying the latest wireless mouse unveilings. Hawk-eyed, hardcore gamers devour these specs in search of the narrowest of advantages to sharpen their competitive edge, and the specs accompanying the newest generation of wireless mice are eye-popping at first glance. 

Where once wireless mice maxed out at 1,000 Hz polling rates, wireless gaming mice are coming to market now claiming polling rates performance from 4,000 Hz all the way up to 8,000 Hz, achieving parity with high-end wired gaming mice. 

Polling rate comparisons have served us well when evaluating wireless vs wired gaming mice performance, providing gamers with a common and well understood reference point to gauge the latest gear. So much so that if you asked many esports gamers the spec that matters most for wireless mice, polling rate is usually the reflexive answer. This is reflected in media coverage as well. 

But this is the wrong answer. Or rather, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

LATENCY MATTERS

When it comes to wireless gaming mice, expect to hear pro gamers and product reviewers alike talking more and more about latency going forward. To be sure, polling rate will remain an important differentiator among mice (all mice, not just wireless). But the new breed of wireless esports mice should also be assessed for their latency, because ultra-fast polling rates may provide little advantage if the performance gains are squandered in latency. 

To quickly recap the key difference between polling rate and latency, polling rate denotes the number of times a mouse registers its position in the span of one second, measured in hertz. Higher polling rates equate to higher precision during motion tracking – a polling rate of 1,000 Hz equates to 1,000 positioning reports per second. 

But if the lag to convey that data to the computer is too long – due to latency – the polling rate advantage can be significantly diminished.  The gamer will show a tendency to keep moving the mouse beyond the desired position until the action on the screen catches up.  The more the latency lag, the more the overshoot – and gameplay can suffer as a result. For hardcore gamers, this is unacceptable. 

So why is latency suddenly top of mind for gamers and gaming media? Because until now, pro-caliber wireless gaming mice have been serviced by 2.4 GHz wireless connectivity, and the latency was never really scrutinized because there wasn’t a comparable, competing connectivity option to choose from among premium-quality gaming mice.

Until now. 

SPARK UWB-based gaming mice are coming to market to compete with legacy 2.4 GHz-based wireless mice, and the latency advantages will be eye opening.

SPARK Microsystems’ UWB technology delivers high data rate for 4,000 Hz polling and higher, and low latency data transfer that is as good as, or better than the polling rate. In the case of 4,000 Hz, with SPARK UWB samples are taken every 0.25 ms and the data is transferred over the wireless link to the host computer within 0.25 ms or better (this includes button presses).  With 2.4 GHz, this latency metric can lean closer to 0.5 ms – and serious gamers will notice the difference, in both the spec sheets and the gameplay.

2.4 GHz simply can’t compete with SPARK UWB’s latency advantages (among many other advantages). The game has changed for wireless esports mice. Polling rate is where the conversation starts. Latency is where it ends. And the side-by-side specs will be revealing when the first generation of SPARK UWB-based gaming mice arrive on shelves later this year. Get excited, gamers!

Traditional gaming and multimedia apps will one day be subsumed within the broader XR technology ecosystem, and the SPARK team has our eyes on the future as we innovate the BAN/PAN connectivity needed to enable exceptional XR experiences.

Wireless gaming mice exemplify the limitations of legacy short-range wireless connectivity today, but the door is open to a new generation of UWB-based gaming mice for tomorrow’s hardcore gamers on the path to full AR/VR immersion.

An entire category of consumer electronics devices – gaming mice – is quietly undergoing a major leap forward in capability, and it’s happening as we speak. And it’s exciting!

Since the dawn of esports, wired mice were considered indispensable for serious gamers seeking the utmost in performance, but times have changed – technology has changed – and wireless mice are coming to market soon that will completely close the performance gap between wired and wireless once and for all. And once this happens, just as we’ve seen in countless other categories of electronic devices, wired mice will largely be a thing of the past.

How did we arrive at this moment? What’s changed in the technology/connectivity landscape to make this possible? 

BREAKING FROM THE PAST

Wireless gaming mice have slowly been making inroads into professional gaming competitions since at least 2017, when a League of Legends player became the first professional gamer to use a wireless mouse in competition. This was big news, since wireless gaming mice provide a major competitive advantage over wired mice: no physical tethers to slow or impede game play. 

The emergence of pro-caliber wireless gaming mice was made possible by the underlying shift from Bluetooth to 2.4 GHz short-range wireless connectivity. Suddenly it was possible to boost polling rates up to 1,000 Hz, making wireless mice more competitive with their wired counterparts, which were capable of 2,000 Hz at the time.

Today, premium wired gaming mice are capable of 8000 Hz polling rates, and this is widely considered to be the performance benchmark that wireless mice must attain to be fully competitive. Innovative mouse vendors have tried to keep up by tweaking 2.4 GHz implementations to push polling rates as high as 4,000 Hz to deliver improved gameplay that approaches wired-caliber performance. 

But 2.4 GHz – just like Bluetooth before it – has reached its performance ceiling. Even today, sustained 4,000 Hz performance is hard to deliver with 2.4 GHz (never mind the numerous interference challenges introduced at 2.4 GHz). 

Going forward, 2.4 GHz offers no discernible upgrade path to 6,000 Hz or 8,000 Hz, and a new connectivity standard for wireless gaming mice is needed to achieve the next performance plateau. 

UWB IS THE FUTURE

2.4 GHz was embraced by the gaming peripherals market because it was, excuse the pun, the only game in town at the time capable of outperforming Bluetooth in wireless peripherals. Today, wireless mice based on 2.4 GHz are currently lingering around the edges among ‘Best Mice for Esports’ product reviews, with PC Magazine recently acknowledging that “historically, most gamers would scoff at the idea of using a wireless mouse for competitive play.”

But that’s all changing. SPARK UWB has arrived to break the performance ceiling for wireless gaming mice, delivering performance that starts at 4,000 Hz polling rates, with a clear roadmap to 8,000 Hz. 

For serious gamers seeking the agility of wireless gameplay, this transition can’t happen soon enough! And for the really serious gamers, the extreme polling rate isn’t even the most exciting aspect of the UWB value proposition. It’s the low latency that gets their attention, and we’ll go into more detail here in a later blog post. 

It was perhaps inevitable that wired gaming mice would be among the last consumer electronic device categories to transition to wireless. Uncompromising performance is essential in esports – it’s the difference between victory and defeat. 

Working collaboratively with our gaming customers, SPARK is innovating behind the scenes to bring the next generation of wireless gaming mice to market, with exciting announcements planned throughout 2023. Watch this space!

The news media has been buzzing about augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology on the heels of some impressive product unveilings. With AR/VR tech gaining early commercial momentum, technology leaders large and small are innovating and investing in AR/VR to speed the arrival of truly breakthrough XR and metaverse technologies.

So what does the state of the art look like today for AR and VR smart glasses and headsets? The recent news headlines have been revelatory. 

Major shifts are underway in the design and economics of these devices, making them smaller, lighter and more affordable. The ability to enable long usage in between charges remains the elusive holy grail for mobile wireless AR and XR glasses (SPARK can help!), but great progress is being made here and elsewhere in AR and VR. 

In this story from Gizmodo, HTC’s new Vive XR Elite wowed a product reviewer to praise the device’s sleek design. Per the author: “The form factor rules, and it’s probably what you should be most excited about. If it’s a symptom of other headsets to come, then VR’s most painful hurdle (the bulkiness) might be over.” 

Meanwhile Sony’s new PlayStation VR2 headset is being praised for its tech, of course, but also its economic efficiencies that make it cost competitive in its device class. From a recent review: “[The PSVR2] provides nearly everything you can get in high-end PCVR kits for a substantially better price (potentially thousands less depending on the PC rig).”

Apple is of course widely rumored to be entering the AR/VR glasses domain this year, with Meta rumored to follow with the debut of its first AR glasses (not to be confused with Meta’s Quest headsets for VR apps). Tech companies from all corners are working overtime to claim their territory in the nascent AR glasses market. Each of these vendors brings a unique vision to AR/VR, and all will play a vital role in its realization.

HOW WILL WE OPERATE OUR AR SMART GLASSES?

As more AR/VR products are unveiled in the months ahead, we’ll have a much better sense of what the future holds. In the meantime, speculation continues to mount regarding the types of controls – physical buttons, voice controls, motion-based gesture controls, etc – that next-generation AR glasses and headsets will be equipped with. 

What should we expect?

It’s perhaps easier to enumerate what we shouldn’t expect. When we envision the future of sleek, lightweight AR glasses perched on our noses as we navigate our daily lives in the physical world, we won’t be walking around with joysticks or “wands” in our hands (and in and out of our pockets) to maneuver and control the AR elements that are literally right in front of our eyes. This is just too cumbersome for AR apps. We need our hands free for other things!

Likewise, we don’t anticipate that the future of smart glasses involves users pawing at their faces every few moments to press a bunch of tiny buttons onboard their smart glasses frames. It’s not practical – it’s encumbering.

Voice activated controls will likely be a compelling option for some AR/VR applications in the future – but with some significant, persistent limitations. Voice controls can struggle in noisy environments, and user privacy is a non-starter when you’re speaking aloud to/through your AR glasses. 

Surely in the future we won’t be fiddling with our smartphones to control our AR glasses and wearables – it defeats the purpose! For the time being, however, smartphones probably will play a central role in the AR user experience, with the phone doing the heavy lifting in terms of data processing and comms. This is probably an interim step toward smartphone functionality being fully (or mostly) absorbed within next generation AR glasses and headsets.

There is surely more innovation to come here, and media reports continue to mine for clues. Meta has demonstrated a “wristband controller” prototype device that reads electrical signals from users’ muscles and movements to navigate mixed reality experiences. Meanwhile over in Cupertino, media intrigue continues to ride high over recent Apple patent filings for “finger-mounted devices” – so called ‘Apple Rings’.

PREDICTIONS FOR AR SMART CONTROLS

So what can we expect for the future of AR device and smart glasses controls? Whether you subscribe to the metaverse concept or not, it’s understood that in augmented reality and virtuality reality – just like in actual reality – our hands and fingers are integral to our perception and awareness. Motion and gesture controls will be essential for interacting in mixed reality (MR), whether they’re mounted on our wrists, hands, fingers or elsewhere.

These devices will need to be lightweight, physically small and unobtrusive – with the tiniest of batteries, so extreme power efficiency is critical. And these devices must exchange huge volumes of sensor data wirelessly over the air, with no perceptible latency lag when synchronizing audio and video feeds, and ultra-precise spatial positioning/tracking of users’ hands, digits, etc. 

If you can name a better connectivity solution than UWB, we’d like to hear about it. When it comes to AR glasses, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and proprietary 2.4 GHz simply can’t compete across all of the requisite performance metrics: power efficiency, latency and data rate. 

High throughput, ultra-low latency, interference resistant, extreme low power SPARK UWB technology is the ideal solution for the coming tidal wave of AR use cases requiring real-time responsiveness, positioning and controls at our fingertips. Stay tuned here at SPARK’s blog to read more about what UWB has in store for the future trajectory of AR, VR and XR!

As the smoke clears on the 2022 holiday season, our frazzled and notoriously shopping-impaired protagonist takes a much-needed breather and surveys what months of carefully considered holiday shopping has wrought. The results? Quite frankly the results could have been better. Here’s what transpired. 

*    *     *     *      *     *

The electronic drum set you bought for your daughter was admittedly a bold gambit from the get-go. Everything looked good on paper when you measured the potential drawbacks/disruption against the monthly cost of a rehearsal space to house her conventional, loud-as-bombs drum set that everyone agreed could no longer be played anywhere near the house or neighborhood. In a correspondingly genius move, you also bought your daughter the nicest, highest performing wireless headphones you could find to pair with the drums, and held your breath and hoped she wouldn’t notice the latency lag from e-drums to headset.

She noticed. She noticed right away, in fact, and within two minutes of indulging in some self-congratulatory reveling in the non-drumming sounds coming from your daughter’s room, she charged through the door and announced that the headphones were useless, but the e-drums were quite nice and she intended to run them through a PA system until you figured out plan B. 

Meanwhile, your youngest son is wrapping up his first year of gaming alongside his older siblings, and he faced some stiff headwinds along the way. That’s the most charitable description you can muster for the non-stop, utter shellacking he endured at the hands of his merciless and more game-savvy brothers and sisters. Even when you couldn’t see the carnage unfolding in the next room, you could hear the despair in his voice and the grizzly slaughter he was experiencing over and over again. This has to change.

The ultra-low latency wireless mouse you got him for the holiday gives him a much-needed competitive advantage – and a ray of hope. Armed with the fastest, most responsive mouse on the market, he might finally stand a chance against his sibs. And that new glimmer of confidence in his eyes makes it totally worth it.  

Over at grandma’s place, your holiday gift giving exploits didn’t go over like you’d hoped.  The audio delay on her brand spanking new video conferencing device made it difficult to talk with her when the whole family dialed in for a special holiday hello.  Primitive conferencing systems are commonplace at the office so you’re no stranger to the frustration – and occasional shenanigans – they can induce. But you don’t want to put grandma through that hassle.  She doesn’t have much time left! Or so she likes to tell you literally every time she sees you, purely for dramatic effect (grandma’s just fine and you’re pretty sure she can do more push-ups than you).

Your spouse did much better than you did in the gift giving department this year, gifting you a subscription to a lossless music streaming service. This was a really, really thoughtful gift – you’ve both lamented that it shouldn’t be so hard to enjoy music wirelessly in high quality. The CD player collecting dust in the basement delivers better sound to this day than anything our 21st century wireless gadgetry can do, and this seems unfathomable

So the lossless music streaming service will be a welcome presence on your wired hi-fi speakers. But sadly it will be wasted on your wireless earphones, where lossy, compressed audio continues to haunt you like those old photos of you with a gigantic 1990s Sony Discman strapped to your hip. 

In each and every case – from your children to your grandmother in fantastic health – you know there’s much, much better wireless comms technology coming soon with high throughput, ultra-low latency, interference resistant, extreme low power UWB technology. The kind of breakthrough tech that’s able to power future AR/VR devices. And not the clunky early prototypes. The real thing

So rejoice this holiday season! UWB is coming soon to our consumer devices – all kinds of devices, not just positioning tags and key FOBs. For beleaguered shoppers everywhere, gift giving decisions are about to get a lot easier. 

We’ve devoted a lot of blog ink recently to forward looking AR/VR applications. The mobile short-range wireless performance needed for these apps has spurred the technology industry’s hunger for a new connectivity option that excels where Bluetooth/BLE and Wi-Fi don’t. UWB answers this need head on, delivering the high data throughput, ultra-low latency and ultra-low power consumption needed for tomorrow’s smart glasses and wearables. 

But in order to architect the AR/VR connected devices of tomorrow, we must first solve the connectivity needs of wireless devices today. And for traditional gaming and audio apps, it’s clearer than ever that collectively we’re reaching the outer limits of what’s possible with legacy short-range connectivity platforms. The time for UWB is right now.

Gaming mice provide a prime example. 

Gaming device OEMs are continuously pushing performance boundaries as they compete – aggressively! – to provide gamers with ultra-fast and ultra-light mice with finely balanced ergonomic and power profiles. Wired mice have traditionally dominated the high-performance mouse market due to the latency advantages they provide, but this trend is changing with the latest generation of wireless gaming mice. Premium wireless mice aspire to deliver wired-like performance and latency without the wires to ensure fast, fluid gameplay and motion without the weight or tangle of cords and cables. 

Premium wireless gaming mice today are typically equipped with proprietary 2.4 GHz wireless connectivity, sometimes with a Bluetooth option for convenience. Why 2.4 GHz narrow band spectrum? Because it was the only viable option at the time these mice were conceived and designed.

Proprietary 2.4 GHz connectivity comes with its own challenges (more on that in a moment), but it’s typically much lower latency than Bluetooth, and specialized wireless gaming mice leverage this advantage to achieve faster polling rates and lower latency.

WHY POLLING RATES AND LATENCY ARE IMPORTANT

Polling rate is the speed at which a mouse sensor communicates its position/location input to a computer per second, which is essential for the accurate tracking of movement.  The more samples you take, the closer you are to recording the actual movements of the mouse. 

A mouse with a polling rate of 1,000 Hz inputs 1,000 times per second (once per millisecond), and this happens to be a pretty common spec among mainstream gaming mice. Innovative mouse vendors are tweaking 2.4 GHz implementations to push polling rates to new heights – peaks as high as 4,000 Hz – to deliver improved precision and speed for better overall gaming performance. 

But a faster polling rate is not enough on its own to boost gaming performance. Latency is key for responsiveness.  You could accurately record the mouse movement at 4,000 Hz, but if the lag to convey that information to the PC is too long, it’s hard for the gamer to benefit from the resolution 4,000 Hz gives them.  The gamer would show a tendency to keep moving the mouse beyond the desired position until the action on the screen catches up.  The more the latency lag, the more the overshoot.

Faster mouse inputs and lower latency enable improved responsiveness, and serious gamers play close attention to these specs because they can enhance their competitive edge. 4,000 Hz polling is an impressive benchmark and SPARK applauds the innovation that made it possible! But unfortunately, 2.4 GHz comes with some inherent penalties.

Among the more pressing issues, 2.4 GHz narrow band spectrum services Bluetooth/BLE, Wi-Fi and ZigBee. It’s a congested frequency band that at any given moment could be occupied by myriad devices in a gamer’s immediate vicinity, all vying for spectrum. This can create interference problems, and onboard USB dongles can create additional noise as well – all of which can negatively impact latency and overall gaming performance.

4,000 Hz polling over 2.4 GHz is also very likely the end of the road in terms of achievable gaming mouse performance using legacy wireless platforms. There’s simply no discernible path to achieving 8,000 Hz polling rates – the next major milestone on the industry’s development roadmap – with 2.4 GHz or Bluetooth-based gaming mice.

A NEW PERFORMANCE STANDARD

With SPARK UWB, 4,000 Hz polling rate is where things start. 

We consider it the baseline for achieving premium gaming mouse performance going forward – with no special optimizations needed to contend with interference like you’d need at 2.4 GHz. And with SPARK UWB, 4,000 Hz polling isn’t qualified in terms of peak performance – 4,000 Hz is the sustained performance.

Moreover, SPARK UWB performance allows a clear roadmap to achieving 8,000 Hz performance – so the innovation doesn’t stop at 4,000 Hz. 

SPARK Microsystems’ UWB technology delivers high data rate for high resolution 4,000 Hz polling and low latency data transfer that is as good as, or better than the polling rate.  In the case of 4,000 Hz, with SPARK UWB samples are taken every 0.25 ms and the data is transferred over the wireless link to the PC within 0.25 ms or better (this includes button presses).  2.4 GHz can in some cases transfer the amount of data 4,000 Hz polling requires, but it may take more than 15 ms to get the data to the PC with 2.4 GHz technologies like Bluetooth.

UWB’s wide frequency range ensures that it’s far less congested than 2.4 GHz narrow band spectrum, allowing for multiple channels and ample flexibility to spectrum hop as needed. And the underlying impulse radio technology means that UWB is less impacted by multipath phase distortion issues and can filter out unwanted interferers, making it more robust for greater concurrency. SPARK UWB can enable multiple gamers to play together at close range at 4,000 Hz polling rate, and provide automatic fallback modes for more players.

As an added benefit – and it’s a pretty significant benefit in its own right – SPARK UWB’s ultra-low power profile makes it possible to use smaller batteries within wireless gaming mice without sacrificing uptime between charges. This makes for a sleeker mouse design, and crucially, this also helps reduce the weight of the mouse for faster gameplay and even better performance.

*       *       *       *        *       *

Traditional gaming and multimedia apps will one day be subsumed within the broader AR/VR technology ecosystem, and the SPARK team has our eyes on the future as we innovate the BAN/PAN connectivity needed to enable exceptional mobile AR/VR experiences.

Wireless gaming mice exemplify the limitations of legacy short-range wireless connectivity today, but the door is open to a new generation of UWB-based gaming mice for tomorrow’s hardcore gamers on the path to full AR/VR immersion.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback on our recently announced UWB interoperability testing initiative – conducted in collaboration with UWB Alliance – affirms the growing industry anticipation and excitement for the future of mainstream UWB commercialization. For applications like wireless gaming and audio, positioning/location awareness, and mobile AR/VR in the metaverse, it’s crucial that we work together to ensure UWB’s seamless coexistence among complementary short-range wireless technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. 

Each of these technologies brings compelling attributes to the table that should be carefully weighed as we take a long view of our evolving wireless needs into the future. These deliberations will directly affect wireless protocol and device interoperability in the immediate short term. Bigger picture, these industry discussions can impact how radio frequency spectrum is allocated going forward. 

So how do these technologies – UWB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi – compare with one another when it comes to servicing the smart glasses and mobile AR/VR devices of tomorrow? The answers are important to understanding how these technologies can be deployed most effectively together over the long term. 

COMPARING UWB, BLUETOOTH AND WI-FI

Bluetooth occupies a different frequency band than UWB, so interference and interoperability between them aren’t pressing concerns. Instead, as UWB becomes ubiquitous alongside Bluetooth within wireless consumer devices, attention will focus on how each will be employed within these devices to play to their respective strengths.  

Bluetooth/BLE offers pretty good (but not great) power efficiency, but with extremely low data rates and high latency compared to UWB. As such, Bluetooth falls short for the heavy data and multimedia demands of smart glasses and mobile AR/VR/metaverse apps of the future. 

Wi-Fi being a local area network communications standard, on the other hand, is well suited in many respects for high data throughput apps – but at a huge power penalty compared to UWB and Bluetooth. Blasting up to 1,000X more RF output power than UWB, Wi-Fi achieves broader coverage areas at the expense of heavy power consumption and saturation. 

As such, Wi-Fi’s limitations for mobile applications outside homes, businesses and hotspots are obvious, for smart glasses and AR/VR apps as well as body area network (BAN) and personal area network (PAN) apps we’re already accustomed to when we’re on-the-go today, including mobile audio/earbuds and keyless ID/access, for example.

SPARK Microsystems, like many others in the wireless technology community, views UWB as a best-of-both-worlds technology that brings together the strengths of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for short range wireless apps. Andwe recognize that all three technologies represent a valuable piece of the puzzle, and their interaction and interoperability must be made seamless going forward.

COEXISTENCE IN THE SPECTRUM

RF spectrum is a precious natural resource – it’s both critical and finite. We can’t make more of it, so we do the absolute best with what we have – not just for our current technology needs, but for the needs of generations to come. Decisions made today about protocol interoperability and spectrum allocation can impact the viability of applications we haven’t even imagined yet. 

SPARK is committed to working collaboratively with our peers, our competitors, and industry organizations like UWB Alliance alike to help ensure that together we achieve effective coexistence strategies among wireless protocols and increase the utility and standardization of these protocols with consistent global regulations. 

SPARK’s recent coexistence testing – stay tuned, there’s more to come! – directly aligns with our mission to be responsible stewards for UWB technology, today and tomorrow. For more information about phase one of the multi-step UWB interoperability testing project underway with SPARK and the UWB Alliance, be sure to read our recent news announcement.

In our recent blog post focused on UWB’s benefits for sustainability, we looked forward to a future of extremely energy efficient UWB-based IoT sensor devices that forego batteries – and the attendant maintenance, cost and environmental problems – and instead leverage energy harvesting technologies to source their own powerfrom free and abundant energy sources like sunlight, heat, vibration and wind.

This revolution in sensing technology – sensors with no wires or batteries – is within our grasp thanks in part to innovations like SPARK UWB that deliver extreme energy efficiency – 40X better than legacy Bluetooth – to significantly reduce overall sensor power requirements. It’s advancements like these that have caught the attention of leading foundations like Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), who are actively investing in SPARK Microsystems to help achieve sustainability goals like these that were once thought impossible (you can read more about this collaboration over at BetaKit).

Though these advancements are somewhat off on the horizon, SPARK is working hard behind the scenes to make this vision a reality. Meanwhile, UWB has exciting things in store for IoT sensors today.

UWB BENEFITS FOR INDUSTRIAL & COMMERCIAL APPS

At the upcoming Sensors Converge event (San Jose, CA, June 27 – 29), SPARK will be on hand to highlight the many advantages that UWB delivers for sensor applications compared to legacy short-range wireless platforms like Bluetooth. For Smart Factory and Smart Home apps, among others, wireless sensors are proving increasingly advantageous.  Low power consumption in particular enables greater deployment and maintenance flexibility when compared to BLE based sensors.  SPARK UWB also allows higher data throughput and low latency for these wireless sensors.

But the UWB advantages don’t stop there. UWB also opens the door to high-precision positioning and ranging capabilities – provided this can be achieved with minimal power consumption. Whereas others in the UWB chip market may struggle to meet this low power requirement, SPARK’s advanced UWB implementation excels in this dimension.

This is hugely beneficial for the myriad industrial, smart city/building/home and AI applications on the horizon that will require UWB-caliber, high-speed sensing and communication among sprawling networks of battery-powered wireless sensors – many of them mobile. In the immediate short term, UWB can deliver major benefits for industrial and warehouse management apps where precision asset tracking and location tagging are essential. UWB-based sensors make it easier than ever before to precisely locate and track warehouse bins, UVs, equipment and other mobile assets in real time.

Likewise, advanced positioning and ranging capabilities also make it possible to more quickly locate UWB based sensors for battery replacement and/or maintenance, compared to legacy wireless sensors. No more time wasted combing through the entire sensor network searching for individual sensors like needles among haystacks.

SPARK UNVEILS NEW UWB WIRELESS SENSOR KITS

For Sensors Converge attendees eager to get started with UWB immediately, SPARK will be demonstrating our new Wireless Sensor Kits (WSKs) through our direct sales force.  This extreme low power and compact reference module – just 40mm X 40mm – houses multiple sensors (optical, gyroscope, motion sensors/accelerometers) and leverages a SPARK SR1020 UWB transceiver for point-to-point sensor applications.  This kit comes with software examples and necessary information for customers to design sensor modules specific to their own applications.

What kinds of energy efficiency advantages might a sensor designer expect to see with a SPARK UWB Wireless Sensor Kit in their own lab? By way of example, in the low power ranging demo, the module consumes less than 50uW in active mode, a clear demonstration of SPARK UWB power efficiency.

Sensors Converge attendees are invited to visit with us at booth #326 to connect with our onsite experts to see the SPARK UWB Wireless Sensor Kit in action, and order one for themselves. Won’t be at the show? Interested designers can contact us to request WSK units, available to qualified customers.

We look forward to seeing you at the Sensors Converge event, where we’ll showcase the many ways SPARK UWB can outperform legacy Bluetooth sensors for the next generation of IoT sensors.

It would be an understatement to say that the team here at SPARK Microsystems gets excited about technology challenges. We are passionate about our innovations in UWB technology and the promise it holds to transform short-range wireless connectivity for gaming, audio, AR/VR/XR and IoT sensor applications, among others. UWB defies the longstanding performance and power efficiency challenges imposed 20+ years ago by legacy Bluetooth, and SPARK stands at the vanguard of this technology revolution.

But this is only part of our story.

SPARK Microsystems is also deeply committed to solving challenges in environmental sustainability. And this isn’t merely a matter of being a responsible corporate citizen – we genuinely want to make the world a better place, and it’s ingrained in our DNA.

UWB’S ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

SPARK UWB’s orders of magnitude performance advantages are essential for enabling the next generation of wireless connected mobile devices optimized for extreme energy efficiency. As a practical matter, this will enable consumers to use their favorite wireless devices – gaming peripherals, audio earbuds, AR glasses, you name it – for much longer intervals between recharges, for fewer interruptions and better overall enjoyment.

At the macro level, this energy savings adds up to something much greater – particularly in the realm of IoT sensing, where small-cell battery powered devices will continue proliferating at an exponential pace throughout our factory floors, renewable energy grids, smart infrastructure and ever onward.

The batteries in these devices are typically replaced at least once or twice in the sensors’ lifetimes – for short-lifetime devices, some batteries won’t be replaced at all.  If not disposed of properly, these discarded batteries and devices pose a major environmental problem.

According to a recent United Nations report, “the world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made.”

This presents a major downstream waste issue – both figuratively and literally. An estimated 3 billion dry-cell batteries are purchased every year in the U.S. alone, but only 10% of these batteries are believed to be properly disposed of. This leaves potentially 300 million batteries that could end up in landfill or incinerated, leaching toxic heavy metals into the land, water and/or atmosphere.

BATTERY-LESS SENSORS

At a minimum, SPARK UWB wireless technology holds the promise to dramatically extend the functional lifetime of these batteries by maximizing the power efficiency of the host sensors themselves. The aggregate energy savings and reduced battery usage/replacements will ultimately help reduce landfill waste, CO2emissions and other toxic environmental contamination.

But there’s more we can do if we think bigger.

Just as short-range wireless technology paved the way for deploying sensors without wires, UWB holds the promise for a future of IoT sensors deployed without batteries. Power-sipping technology like SPARK UWB sets the stage for a future of battery-less IoT sensor devices that leverage energy harvesting technologies to derive their own power.

These sensors won’t need onboard batteries in the traditional sense. They could instead be powered by energy resources as free and plentiful as sunlight, heat, vibration, friction, wind – the possibilities are endless.

Sustainable Development Technology Canada’s (SDTC) most recent investment in SPARK Microsystems affirms UWB’s potential to dramatically reduce energy consumption for connected devices like IoT sensors, enabling longer battery lifecycles and reduced waste for a more sustainable, environmentally friendly future.

We’ve devoted a lot of blog space to the metaverse in recent weeks, and for good reason. The coming tidal wave of metaverse-enabling technologies – spanning AR, VR, MR and XR – will radically reshape how we interact with each other in all facets of day-to-day life, from socializing and entertainment to business, healthcare, education and well beyond.

The metaverse has been described as “the biggest technology revolution since the emergence of smartphones 15 years ago,” according to VentureBeat. In its wake, the metaverse will reshape the consumer electronics industry, and this process has already begun.

Every major technology market leader is arrayed to monetize the metaverse, and VentureBeat does a tremendous job detailing how companies like Google, Meta/Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Xiaomi, Lenovo and others are racing to achieve leadership in the nascent AR and MR glasses domain.

How fast is this market moving? In the short interval since SPARK’s last blog post, Google spent a rumored $1B for a startup specializing in augmented reality and virtual reality headset displays. Behind the scenes, eagle-eyed media recently spotted Google job listings recruiting innovators “focused on making immersive computing accessible to billions of people through mobile devices.”

Why all the attention on AR glasses, more so than fully immersive VR headsets? Because AR glasses will serve as our primary gateways to the metaverse, acting as our physical ‘browsers’ for toggling between physical and virtually augmented worlds whether we’re at home or out and about.  For more on this, be sure to check out: “Why AR, not VR, will be the heart of the metaverse

ACHIEVING THE MOBILE METAVERSE

In our earlier “Multisensory Metaverse” blog post series, we addressed the value of UWB for the short-range wireless delivery of critically important visual, audio and touch stimuli in the metaverse. All will play a key role in enabling metaverse immersion, with video and audio capabilities integrated within our smart glasses and headsets, and haptic feedback distributed to our bodies via a new generation of VR gloves and wearable peripherals.

These devices will become as ubiquitous and essential to our daily lives as our smartphones are today, going with us wherever we go…for as long as their battery charges will last them. The metaverse will be fundamentally mobile and we will be reliant on these devices being charged and ready for use as we go about our day.

Indeed, VentureBeat identifies the “holy grail” of fully realized AR glasses as the ability to effectively address power consumption. No simple feat when one considers the large volumes of data that will flow amongst these wearable devices in our personal area networks (PANs).

UWB vs BLUETOOTH IN THE METAVERSE

UWB answers these challenges head on, exceling in ways legacy Bluetooth cannot. Whereas Bluetooth compresses and degrades data streams to fit tight bandwidth constraints – and consumes a lot of precious power doing so – SPARK UWB technology is unrivaled in its ability to deliver the requisite high data throughput at short range with extremely low latency and power consumption.

This performance profile gives AR and VR glasses designers the ability to extend device battery life without adding increasingly bulky and cumbersome batteries to the design. SPARK UWB, therefore, helps to ensure that smart glasses wearers can enjoy long operational times with far fewer interruptions for battery charging – without the added bulk/heft of a large sized battery to impede the user experience.

SPARK UWB’s reduced latency is key to ensuring that data is refreshed and presented in real-time in response to the user’s actions within a dynamic virtual environment. This assures a more seamless immersion in the metaverse, eliminating the timing lags that can distort our perception and detract from our metaverse experiences. When it comes to mitigating interference between AR/VR devices, UWB outperforms Bluetooth yet again. UWB readily coexists with other wireless protocols, and sidesteps Bluetooth’s heavily congested 2.4MHz ISM band to help ensure greater AR/VR device interoperability with fewer signal interruptions and/or drop outs.  The orders of magnitude performance advantages that SPARK UWB technology provides compared to legacy Bluetooth – 10X more data throughput, 40X better energy efficiency, 60X lower latency – will be essential for enabling the mobile metaverse.

SPARK UWB is the short-range wireless connectivity platform best optimized for metaverse enabling devices like AR glasses, gloves and other peripherals still to come, providing the robust, high-quality data comms necessary for enabling seamless metaverse immersion on the fly – with the power efficiency to ensure long usage times between device charges.