Commack, NY -- It's a classic love story: A casual encounter at the right time sends an imaginative, driven, out-of-shape engineer on a journey of passion, frustration, learning, marriage, birth and the on-going struggle for mental and emotional survival against all the odds. The only twist is that the relationship started with the MEMS and wireless technology behind the Nintendo Wii and culminated in the birth of the FitBit, a lightweight, unobtrusive device designed to help get you into shape by measuring calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled and sleep quality.
In this case, the engineer is James Park, now CEO of FitBit, and at next Thursday's teardown session
at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, I'll be taking attendees step-by-step through the design of the FitBit, from the spark of that initial technological encounter through to the birth of the device in late 2009.
Along the way, I'll be discussing the design challenges faced by the team. And they were many, starting with basic Entrepreneur 101: How to differentiate yet another fitness device from those from established players, in this case giants like Garmin, Nike and Polar.
From there, the real design journey will begin and I'll discuss why Park and his team settled on the specific MCU at the heart of the device, why they decided to go wireless and how that critical decision, while necessary for the success of the design, should not be taken lightly. We know that wireless carries a lot of 'baggage', but it's always surprising how many delays it can still cause. It's definitely 'high maintenance.'
Aside: Given how the MCU and wireless choices were so much a part of the design and how many MCU providers, such as Texas Instruments, are integrating wireless in their ICs, I've asked low-power MCU expert Adrian Valenzuela from TI to join me on the podium to discuss the design challenges you may face and answer any questions specific to your own design. It may well be the case that the design delays experienced by FitBit may be avoidable with more recent IC options.
While the MCU and wireless choices were critical, so too was the choice of MEMS. I'll discuss why analog may still be a better and cheaper choice over digital for 3-D MEMS, and how IC and system packaging can greatly affect both your overall design complexity and production costs. Be careful of those fine BGA pitches, thin boards and small form factors!
For anyone contemplating or who may already be committed to a design 'relationship', ESC in general, and teardown sessions in particular, may be the therapy you need. You are not alone!
See you next week! firstname.lastname@example.org or ping me on Twitter @Patrick_Mannion