After years of trying to find an identity within Sharp Electronics Corp.'s Microelectronics Group and then as a spinoff, DSP Architectures Inc. continues to seek ways to move forward as an independent provider of high-performance signal processing devices.
Next month, DSPA will begin production of a radiation-hardened version of its DSP24 chipset, which has already scored a design win at NASA for the agency's Geosynchronous Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer (GIFTS) satellite imaging system.
The fast Fourier transform (FFT) architecture used by DSPA has its origins within Honeywell Space Systems and eventually made its way through several companies, including Atmel Corp. and Array Microsystems Inc., before ending up at Sharp Microelectronics in the early '90s. Sharp then created a subsidiary, Butterfly DSP, to further develop the architecture.
Sharp soon ended its support for Butterfly DSP, and in 1996, Mike Fleming and a few others who had been working at the subsidiary decided to form DSPA in an effort to commercialize frequency-domain FFT technology.
"Our technology and focus never really fit the Sharp business model," said Fleming, president of DSPA in Vancouver, Wash. "They were more of a commodity company, and ours was more a low-volume, high-support approach."
The technology is being used in military/aerospace, medical, and instrumen- tation applications, and Fleming believes it will increasingly be used in telecommunications applications such as wireless basestations.
The company's primary product, the DSP24, is manufactured by AMI Semiconductor Inc. in Pocatello, Idaho. The DSP chipset includes 10 24-bit multipliers that can be used to complete complex filtering, correlation, and other tasks. The chipset includes the MMU24, a memory management unit.
Honeywell, Minneapolis, is making the rad-hardened version of the chipset, the RHDSP24, which will be in full production in June. Honeywell is also a licensee of DSPA's core technology.
DSPA's revenue for fiscal 2002, ended March 31, 2002, grew from about $1 million to $2 million in the recently completed fiscal 2003. And now, with the RHDSP24 in production, the company believes it is ready for a major revenue ramp, Fleming said.
DSPA is not a volume-production company, but its standard devices can sell for $500 to $700 each, and the radiation-hardened versions of some of its products can sell for $50,000 each.
DSPA has also begun trying to expand the commercial appeal of its FFT technology, Fleming said. The company is currently looking for funding to assist in designing a framework that will combine the base technology with an ARM processor-core architecture.
"If we can put this in place in conjunction with an ARM in our next-generation offering, it will be more compatible with the market's standardized software," he said.
Despite all the twists and turns the company has gone through, Fleming remains confident.
"We believe we were ahead of our time," he said. "But FFT technology is now being paid more attention to as people realize that tasks can be completed better, faster, and with more resolution in the frequency domain."