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.

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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.

Our understanding of the metaverse – a still relatively new concept, rooted in AR, VR, and XR – is evolving quickly as technologists and pundits debate its many major implications for the future of social interaction, entertainment and socioeconomics. As our experiences in the physical and virtual worlds blend together more frequently and more seamlessly, it’s clear that the underlying quality and immersion of the metaverse experience hinges almost entirely on the robustness of the data communications platform.

In our personal area networks (PANs) of tomorrow, metaverse enabling data will require higher speed wireless data delivery than existing short-range technologies such as Bluetooth can provide.  SPARK UWB (ultra-wideband) technology stands alone in its ability to deliver the requisite data throughput at short range with extremely low latency and power consumption.

In the metaverse, this data will flow to our AR glasses, headsets, VR gloves and other peripherals to stimulate our senses. We’ve addressed the implications of UWB for the delivery of critically important audio/hearing and visual stimuli previously in our blog. In today’s edition, we’ll address the topics of touch and haptics.

Why is Touch Important in the Metaverse?

Our immersion in the metaverse would be fundamentally incomplete absent our ability to touch objects, environments and other avatars, gathering the tactile information we rely on to fuse our full perception and complete the sensory loop.

Haptics and vibrotactile feedback technologies are already commonly employed today in the gaming domain, where console game controllers can feature shake/rumble effects and low-frequency vibration to simulate the force feedback incoming from various virtual game elements. It allows gamers to feel the physical effects of their interactions in virtual worlds, from the thrill of flight simulation to the intensity of battle, and more.

For console game controllers, this is typically achieved today through the use of vibrotactile actuators. Going forward, this technology will get increasingly advanced, leading developers to explore innovations in microfluidic simulated “skin” and other tactile enablers. Today this technology has already yielded VR gloves with simulated material skins only 1.5mm thick.

How touch-sensitive are these gloves? They were specifically designed to give surgeons the real-world feel of surgical instruments and procedures during virtual surgical training.

It doesn’t get much more sensitive than that.

Moreover, this application plainly illustrates the tremendous value of augmentative and assistive apps enabled with AR and VR in the metaverse. Leveraging our smart glasses and VR gloves, the ability to teach and/or guide people remotely – as if they were physically right next to us – portends a huge future for educational, medical, industrial and customer service apps in the metaverse. And these are just a few apps among a very long list.

Haptic Feedback From Head to Toe

Today these touch augmented/augmenting peripherals are largely confined to our hands via game controllers and gloves. But already the use of haptics in immersive entertainment is evolving to provide a more full-body sensation, as evidenced by the recent arrival of haptic feedback chairs designed for experiencing games, music and movies more fully and viscerally.

Other exciting haptic innovations are approaching on the horizon. Torso-mounted peripherals, for example, have been developed to help deliver greater resolution and range for pro and consumer audio apps, leveraging skin, muscle and bone level vibration frequencies.

For these applications and countless others sure to follow, touch-based feedback will play a key role in the advent of the multisensory metaverse. The ability to deliver life-like experiences across all of our senses will require huge volumes of data transmitted wirelessly at extremely low latency to the peripherals that comprise our PANs – and we want these devices to last as long as possible between recharging.  SPARK Microsystems’ UWB implementation delivers on every front, far exceeding what can be achieved with legacy Bluetooth.

Stay tuned for the next entry in our metaverse blog series as we assess these sensory elements holistically within the broader metaverse framework. This is essential to understanding UWB’s deeper, foundational value proposition for tomorrow’s metaverse: mobility.

In our ongoing ‘Multisensory Metaverse’ blog post series, we’ve provided some high level perspective on metaverse concepts and highlighted the many ways that UWB will be invaluable for stimulating our sense of hearing and spatial awareness in the fully immersive metaverse experience of tomorrow.

In today’s edition, we’ll address the ways that UWB will play a critical role for sight-based applications in the metaverse. There will be much to see and do in the metaverse amid all the gaming, entertainment, social and business applications on deck for development, and just like in the real world, we’ll depend mightily on our sense of vision to navigate our surroundings.

To assess the technology trends at play here, it’s helpful to frame the metaverse concept within the broader umbrella of extended reality (XR), which itself encompasses augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). While AR, VR, and XR are technologies and terminologies we’re familiar with today, the arrival of ‘the metaverse’ has introduced new nomenclature, and perhaps a new framework for this continuum.

In broad strokes, all of these terms address the intermingling of our physical and virtual worlds. We’ll (eventually) have the option to fully immerse ourselves in the metaverse through VR, but more typically we envision the metaverse as something that travels with us wherever we go, bringing virtual content into our real lives – within our line of sight – as we navigate the physical world.

If this vision of the future sounds familiar to you, it should because it’s already here! This is the very essence of augmented reality (AR), where we invite digital information, entertainment, and avatars etc to reside at the periphery of our real-life experiences – on the periphery of our vision.

How Does UWB Enable Visual Apps in the Metaverse?

UWB is the perfect fit for AR/XR eyewear the likes of which we’ve written about previously in this blog, and you yourselves have perhaps already spotted out in the wild: ‘smart’ eyeglass frames that do not block our fields of view (FOV) from real-world visual stimuli a la headgear/goggles but are instead designed for the AR/XR we’ll experience as we go about our daily lives.

And just as wireless audio earbuds have become ubiquitous for experiencing multimedia apps and audio on the go, augmented reality eyewear is poised for similar ubiquity in the not-too-distant future as we enter in and out of the metaverse in the regular course of our days. Some even predict that AR smart glasses are poised to overtake smartphones for consumer device popularity, subsuming many of the functions that smartphones perform today.

AR and XR Use Cases for UWB in the Metaverse

Among other use cases, SPARK’s advanced UWB implementation is ideally suited for transmitting the rich data that populates visual cues and information on the periphery of our smart glasses’ lenses, guiding us through tasks, for example, or layering virtual images and/or avatars on top of our real-world FOV.

What’s more, the extreme high bandwidth delivered with SPARK UWB will be critical for transmitting the positioning/IMU data – metaverse meta data, if you will – that ensures these visuals remain positioned in the precise right place on our AR glasses lenses even as we move about the environment.

In addition to all these benefits, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also highlight how utterly essential it will be to maintain a manageable power budget for these wireless devices in order to sustain long usage times between charges. Any and every wireless hardware peripheral that we employ in our PANs and affix to our bodies for metaverse interaction will need to be optimized for extreme power conservation – and Bluetooth doesn’t even begin to compare to SPARK UWB in terms of meeting these exacting power efficiency requirements.

In many ways, this vision of the future has already arrived, and today’s AR eyewear is a compelling precursor to what we can look forward to in the metaverse of tomorrow. Be sure to join us for the next installation in our ‘Multisensory Metaverse’ series, where we’ll take a closer look at UWB’s advantages for harnessing and augmenting our touch-based awareness in the metaverse.

For nearly 20 years, Bluetooth has dominated as the short-range technology for wirelessly connected devices. But UWB’s latency and power-efficiency advantages position it as a compelling alternative with faster, freer dataflow and low power consumption.

Dr. Frederic Nabki


What you’ll learn:
  • A comparison of Bluetooth and UWB for positioning.
  • Benefits of UWB for high-speed data and multimedia communications.
  • The differences between Bluetooth and UWB for gaming, audio, and IoT applications.

Bluetooth and ultra-wideband (UWB) short-range wireless technologies both rose to prominence at the turn of the century, and their development paths have been driven by the unrelenting need to reduce power consumption and extend battery life for an endless proliferation of wirelessly connected devices.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was ratified in 2006 to address the early power-consumption deficiencies of Bluetooth. More recently, Bluetooth 5.2 added features to reduce consumption for targeted applications like audio. However, these modifications are strictly incremental. Fundamentally, reductions in power consumption are physically limited by the Bluetooth architecture—a carrier-based transceiver will always require a significant amount of power to start, stabilize, and maintain its RF oscillator.

The figure shows the two significant power penalties inherent to all narrowband radio architectures, including Bluetooth.

Between Bluetooth and UWB

These are the two significant power penalties inherent to all narrowband radio architectures, including Bluetooth.

First, crystal oscillator overhead (lower left) cripples low data-rate performance. Bluetooth uses a ~20-MHz crystal oscillator, which requires a few milliwatts to power. When efficiently optimized, UWB radios can operate with impulses that don’t require a high-frequency crystal oscillator and can be designed to operate with a low timing power-consumption overhead. Much depends on the UWB optimization technique, though, so this is an area that should draw scrutiny.

Many of today’s UWB technology implementations must in fact use higher-frequency crystal oscillators than what’s required for BLE. Meanwhile, advanced UWB implementations can utilize crystal oscillators down to 32-kHz timing.

Second, the modulated carrier overhead (upper middle in the chart above) penalizes high data-rate performance. Transmitting a large amount of data over a narrow bandwidth channel such as that used in Bluetooth radios requires lots of time and power.

Large amounts of data can be transmitted with UWB far more quickly because it’s spread across a wide bandwidth, keeping the transmitter on for a much shorter duration and significantly reducing power consumption. This means for the same amount of consumed power, UWB can transmit much more data (far upper right).

This owes to the time-frequency duality, well encapsulated by the Fourier transform. In simple terms, this duality states that if you have an infinitely long periodic time signal, it will have an infinitely small bandwidth. On the other hand, if you have an infinitely short impulse signal, it will have an infinitely large bandwidth. In other words, you can trade time for bandwidth.

Ultra-wideband enjoys a clear inherent advantage over narrowband given its allocation and support over a large portion of radio spectrum. A UWB signal is defined as a signal having a spectrum larger than 500 MHz. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2002 authorized the unlicensed use of UWB in the frequency range from 3.1 to 10.6 GHz.

UWB systems use short-duration (i.e., nanosecond timescale) electromagnetic pulses for high-speed transmission and reception of data over large bandwidths. They also have a very low duty cycle, which is defined as the ratio of the time that an impulse is present to the total transmission time.

Bluetooth vs. UWB for Positioning

After two decades of maturation, Bluetooth today is nearly ubiquitous in the battery-powered wireless-device market, spanning smartphones/tablets, earphones/headsets, gaming peripherals, IoT sensors, and more. For wireless apps that could get by with high latency and highly compressed audio signals, Bluetooth has delivered an acceptable user experience for some wireless apps. However, it could be argued that Bluetooth has reached its point of diminishing returns.

Today, UWB is emerging as a compelling successor to Bluetooth/BLE for the next generation of low-power short-range wireless applications. Consumer electronics manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, and others sure to follow are leveraging UWB spectrum for the delivery of electromagnetic impulses for applications like positioning for object/asset tracking, as exemplified by Apple’s AirTags. This is a narrow application of UWB’s technology potential, but nonetheless an effective one.

In this capacity, UWB measures time of flight (ToF): an impulse is sent from one device to another, and we measure the time it took from transmit to receive. The distance between objects is determined accordingly, and this can be measured with picosecond accuracy with UWB chips. Leveraging onboard antennas, measurements are then able to be correlated to determine a signal’s angle of arrival, and UWB “tagged” objects can consequently be located with accuracy down to a mere 10 cm.

Bluetooth technology comes nowhere close to matching this precision, as it utilizes received signal strength (RSS) to measure spatial distance. RSS is a very simple technique to implement and can be used by any wireless transceiver, which explains why it’s so widely used. However, it’s severely limited in its accuracy: The perceived distance between two immobile objects will change according to obstacles in their direct path, and BLE typically achieves positioning accuracy only to within several meters.

Positioning technology enabled with UWB—while extremely accurate—is exceedingly complex from a design perspective and therefore extremely power hungry. As a result, UWB chips used today for object tracking are actually less power-efficient than Bluetooth chips/radios by as much as 10X. So, while UWB is well-suited for positioning, it’s a power-intensive application by nature and at the end of the day, there’s no device-level power benefit delivered with UWB.

UWB for High-Speed Data and Multimedia Communication

The aforementioned time-frequency duality expresses how time and bandwidth are interchangeable. If one wants to compress in time a wireless transmission, it requires more frequency bandwidth. This property can be used to increase the accuracy of positioning and ranging, but these capabilities represent a mere sliver of UWB’s potential.

Another very interesting capability enabled by the time-frequency duality is that it can reduce the latency in systems. This has huge implications for untold short-range wireless applications into the future.

Impulses delivered over ultra-wide bandwidth ensure extremely low latency—these signals can be sent in microseconds with UWB, whereas Bluetooth would take milliseconds. The end result is ultra-efficient wireless data communication. What’s more, UWB implementations have demonstrated at least 10X less power consumption than BLE for non-positioning applications.

Bluetooth’s latency penalties will only persist for applications like gaming, audio, and IoT, which is the chief reason why wired connectivity has lingered so stubbornly for peripherals and sensors used in these applications. We welcome the freedom of mobility that wireless affords us, but historically it’s cost us quite a bit in terms of latency/delays, signal degradation, and battery drain.

Gaming

Forgaming, speed is everything when it comes to outperforming one’s opponents, and latency is therefore a major concern among die-hard gamers. When gamers press the mouse button, they want an instantaneous response, but Bluetooth can only deliver response speeds of 20 to 30 ms at best.

Leveraging UWB connectivity, SPARK has demonstrated sub-0.2-ms latency for UWB wireless gaming peripherals, and the company is well along the path to achieving sub-0.1 ms. This is far beyond what Bluetooth can do, and it’s even faster than what many commercially available USB-wired mice can deliver today.

Audio

For audio, since Bluetooth is limited to a very narrow bandwidth, audio data compression must be applied to squeeze an otherwise bulky audio signal through a narrow pipe, which degrades the signal. Bluetooth codecs are inherently lossy in that lots of source audio data is stripped away. CD-quality audio is achieved with a 1,411-kb/s data rate—a Bluetooth codec renders that down to about 300 kb/s to be able to fit the audio stream within Bluetooth’s limited data-rate capabilities.

UWB enables 10X more data throughput than BLE; thus, there’s no need to compress the audio signal for wireless delivery to your UWB headset. This ensures that the sound stage one can hear with UWB headsets is considerably more detailed than what’s possible with Bluetooth today, and exactly faithful to the audio source. These benefits extend to live music performance as well—UWB liberates performing musicians from cumbersome cables without sacrificing latency, allowing for wireless live performances.

IoT

The battery life of wireless sensors and devices is insufficient today for many IoT applications, leading to overly frequent recharge cycles, limited connectivity, and bulky batteries and/or costly maintenance. In addition, long latency makes wireless inadequate in applications requiring real-time sensing and communications.

With UWB, huge volumes of sensor data can be delivered with 60X lower latency and 40X better energy efficiency than legacy Bluetooth. This is hugely beneficial not only to IoT applications, but also to the myriad smart building, smart city, and AI-guided applications on the horizon that will require ultra-high-speed communication among sprawling networks of battery-powered wireless sensors.

Bluetooth technology is well-entrenched today and has served us reasonably well for the last two decades. However, UWB’s stark latency and power-efficiency advantages position it as a compelling alternative for any wireless application requiring more data to flow faster and more freely with minimal power consumption. Everywhere Bluetooth resides today—across untold commercial and industrial applications, from our earphones to the edge—UWB can potentially reside tomorrow.

In our earlier blog post, we provided some high-level perspective on the metaverse concept and UWB’s crucial role within it. In particular, we highlighted UWB’s unrivaled ability to wirelessly transmit torrents of data from our networked infrastructure to our personal area networks (PANs) where it can be distributed via wearable devices to facilitate fully immersive metaverse experiences.

For short-range wireless connectivity, SPARK UWB provides orders of magnitude improvements in data throughput and latency compared to legacy Bluetooth, while doing so at low power, and these attributes will be essential to achieving lifelike simulated experiences in the metaverse.

And while improved data throughput and low latency are valuable for almost any application, the implications for the metaverse run much deeper. The metaverse will be a multisensory experience unlike any other, promising new levels of immersion in virtual environments simulated for the purposes of entertainment, gaming, social interaction and commerce.

But none of this will be possible if the sensory stimuli offered us in the metaverse can’t effectively mimic the stimuli we experience in the real world.

In the coming weeks, stay tuned for an ongoing blog series wherein we address the critical role that UWB will play in stimulating and augmenting our senses in the metaverse. In today’s installation we’ll address the topic of hearing and sound.

Why is Audio Quality Going To Be Essential in the Metaverse?

We’ve previously detailed the many benefits that SPARK UWB wireless delivers over legacy Bluetooth in terms of audio quality – for gamers and music enthusiasts alike – as well as spatial audio enablement for a wide realm of audio apps. The extreme data throughput made possible with UWB means we’ll no longer have to compress/compromise sound quality going forward like we do today with lossy, compressed Bluetooth audio delivery. With UWB, not only can we stream high-quality audio, but we can also stream inertial measurement unit (IMU) data at low latency to facilitate advanced spatial audio algorithms.

Which is great news for audio apps today! Going forward in our journey to the metaverse, the need for pristine, precisely positioned audio stimuli will only continue to grow.

The metaverse of the future will be optimized for social interaction – a virtual universe unto itself where we’ll gather with friends, attend events, shop together in virtual stores, etc. Most everything we do today, but simulated.

So our sense of hearing will be every bit as crucial in the metaverse as it is in the real world. And while most experts agree that among the sighted it’s vision that dominates our conscious experience, it’s also understood that hearing is hardly a secondary function.

From an evolutionary perspective, for those unimpaired we rely on our hearing to monitor our environments for threats and opportunities. It’s perhaps telling that while we’re physically able to close our eyes and not see anything if we choose, our physiological design precludes our bodies from physically ‘turning off’ our hearing. There are no mammals on earth that can do this. That’s how vital hearing is to our basic functions and survival.

But it’s not about survival in the metaverse, it’s all about social! We need to be able to hear with the utmost clarity every voice and every available audio cue in order to establish spatial orientation and situational awareness. More importantly, we want the ability to hear our friends, loved ones, colleagues, gaming competitors, etc – everyone in our metaverse orbit – as if they were physically beside us, with no latency lags or sound quality degradations to distort our sense of presence.

What Are SPARK UWB’s Advantages vs Bluetooth in the Metaverse?

UWB eliminates the data/signal throughput bottlenecks, audio degradation and significant latency imposed by legacy Bluetooth. And SPARK Microsystems’ advanced UWB implementation can achieve all this while simultaneously delivering superior power efficiency to make sure our wearables and peripherals last as long as possible on a single charge.  This is a critical attribute today that will grow even more critical in time as the power budgets of our metaverse wearables are optimized for maximum uptime.

Be sure to join us for the next installation in our ‘Multisensory Metaverse’ series, where we’ll take a closer look at UWB’s advantages for harnessing and augmenting our sight-based awareness in the metaverse of tomorrow.

In our previous blog post, we noted the surging interest in metaverse technology, spurred in large part by the recent Facebook/Meta corporate repositioning. It caused quite a stir in the media to say the least, and not just in the close confines of Silicon Valley. The “metaverse” has become a household word almost overnight.

But the idea isn’t altogether new. The metaverse concept was coined in 1992 in a fictional novel (Snow Crash) but gained growing attention in the businesses and technology domains beginning around 2018. Early metaverse proponents commonly cite theorist and venture capitalist Matthew Ball’s essay series, the Metaverse Primer, when describing the overarching metaverse framework.

So what is the metaverse, exactly? Here’s how Ball defines it:

“It is the successor to the mobile internet that has defined the last two decades. The metaverse is a persistent, 3D, virtual world—a network of interconnected experiences and devices, tools and infrastructure, far beyond mere virtual reality…it can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.”

If this sounds like the stuff of science fiction, it isn’t. As we previously noted, the metaverse is where all of our revolutionary new technologies will intersect. Cloud, edge, 5G, AI and IoT sensors will culminate in a fully immersive, shared virtual space where we’ll congregate for entertainment, gaming, and social engagement, as well as commercial and industrial applications.

REALITY CHECK

With all of the breathless media coverage surrounding the metaverse, we’re left to wonder: Is the metaverse just another technology buzzword? Yes and no. Early attempts to define the metaverse concept will undoubtedly get a few things wrong, and this will likely create some confusion and perhaps some cynicism in the months ahead. And to be clear, major advancements in our cloud/network infrastructure will need to occur before the metaverse is achieved in a meaningful way.

But major progress is already being made. Consider the imminent rollout of 5G by AT&T and Verizon, and then recall that 5G was itself considered a buzzword just a few short years ago. The phased, global 5G rollout has also been hugely instructive in designing futureproofed networks optimized for even greater scalability as capacity needs increase. And they will increase.

Some would argue that the first instantiations of the metaverse have already arrived, manifesting in hugely popular virtual gaming/entertainment platforms like Roblox, Fortnite and Animal Crossing. So the metaverse is closer at hand than some may think, but there’s consensus agreement in the technology community that there’s still miles to go.

UWB’S ESSENTIAL ROLE IN THE METAVERSE

So how does ultra wideband technology factor into the metaverse?

We plan to address this topic in an expanded blog post series. By way of simple explanation, we can look at it like this:

The super-charged network infrastructure delivering the extremely high data throughput powering our ultra-low latency metaverse experiences of the future will extend only as far as our wires and cables will carry them.

At the end of that journey, all of that data must ultimately be transmitted wirelessly to our personal area networks (PANs) where our wearable hardware peripherals will distribute the data in ways that fully immerse our sense of sight, sound, and touch.

The quality of the metaverse experience hinges completely on the quality of the communications. And where Bluetooth has already hit its technology limitations for present day applications, UWB stands alone as the short-range wireless technology that can deliver the extreme data throughput and ultra-low latency required for the metaverse experiences of tomorrow.

SPARK Microsystems takes this value proposition another step further by ensuring that the power consumption profile for the aforementioned wireless peripherals – from headset to fingertip – will allow for lengthy usage times between battery charges. This means fewer interruptions for more seamless immersion in the metaverse.

The full promise of the metaverse is somewhat off on the horizon, but it will be well worth the wait. In the meantime, SPARK Microsystems is wasting no time in supercharging our present-day audio, gaming and AR/VR/XR applications with UWB as we collectively take the next steps toward the metaverse.

Image Source: Pixabay