In an interview, SPI executive vice president Ian Chen said the company will not have products available until the second half. But plans call for SPI to market platforms that marry its analog/mixed-signal ASICs with "commodity sensor elements" for location- and motion-aware consumer electronics products.
Chen said SPI (San Jose, Calif.) is working with multiple third-party suppliers of MEMS accelerometers, magnetometers and GPS sensors and that the company is using the most inexpensive sensors in each application it addresses, looking to leverage competitive market forces to deliver affordable solutions. Chen declined to reveal SPI's suppliers.
As an example, Chen said SPI could make possible a free-space pointer that would run on AA batteries and offer a total BOM of less than $10. Such a device, he noted, would be useful as a remote control for free-space navigation of today's complex cable and satellite television menus. With motion-sensing built into a traditional remote control, the user could navigate menus without pushing buttons.
"A lot of people have come to realize that having a rich media interface is one of the last remaining hurdles to true digital convergence," Chen said. "But it has to be affordable. It has to be able to be produced in mass quantities."
SPI also advocates its technology for indoor location detection. That application supplements GPS navigation with sensor technology to determine the distance and direction traveled once the device loses contact with the GPS satellite.
Gartner Inc. analyst Stephan Ohr said SPI's plan is to incorporate the functionality of multiple sensors, including GPS, in a single IC eventually. But that could be a ways off, he added-and SPI would be wise to consider integrating the various sensor functionalities one piece at a time. "My personal feeling is that there have to be baby steps," Ohr said.
SPI isn't alone, or even trailblazing, in touting new concepts for motion-sensing technology. Hillcrest Labs (Rockville, Md.) markets technology based on DSPs and software that provides motion sensing for products such as the Logitech MX Air free-space mouse and Hillcrest's own Loop TV remote. GestureTek Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) offers software-based "gesture recognition" technology for gaming and, more recently, cellular handsets.
Ben Bajarin, consumer technology and digital media analyst with Creative Strategies Inc. (Campbell, Calif.), thinks SPI's solution can compete in price with a lot of the technologies out there. "They have a very holistic view of the world and the role that sensors will play in mobile devices and, eventually, TVs," he said.
Launched in 2004, SPI has fewer than 20 employees and maintains a design center in Santa Rosa, Calif. It is backed by venture capital firms Arrowpath Venture Partners, Newbury Ventures and North Bay Angels.
Dylan McGrath is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco.