Electronic Design

Cutting-Edge DSP Designs Give New Life To Old Markets

Designs incorporating DSPs are among the hottest areas you readers are working on today. There are so many new DSP applications that it comes as no surprise that Forward Concepts research shows DSPs growing faster than any other semiconductor category, with sales reaching a 27% cumulative annual growth rate during this decade.

A recent technology workshop put on by one DSP market leader, Texas Instruments, showcased some innovative applications driving that market growth. A series of presentations from companies with TI DSP design-ins showed how otherwise "mature" market segments discover new life thanks to creative DSP engineering.

A showstopping way to demonstrate the incredible speed of today's DSPs was a "finger-saving" tablesaw from SawStop. It takes advantage of the fact that fingers have a much greater electrical capacitance than wood. If the DSP receives a signal, it triggers a powerful spring to brake the saw blade. Spinning at 4000 rpm, the blade stops so quickly—within 5 ms—that it advances only a couple more teeth, turning what could have been a severed finger into a small cut.

A handheld hot dog stood in for the finger during the demo, the hot dog serving as an extension of human capacitance. Stop-action video replay captured the near-instantaneous saw-response time. The brake cartridge that contains the DSP is disposable (helping drive those DSP sales figures!). Thus far, five DSPs have "given their lives" to save fingertips. SawStop even got a recent thankful testimonial from a high school shop student who kept his thumb thanks to the technology. (Go to www.elecdesign.com and see Drill Deeper 10491 to view the hot dog demo.)

WiLife Inc. demonstrated another cool DSP-powered application: a digital video surveillance system that sends video signals over a home's powerlines using the HomePlug standard. The system is engineered to offer homeowners a DIY surveillance system with professional-grade technology for under $250.

Users load software to their PC, plug a powerline communications device into the PC's USB port, and then install the cameras by simply plugging them into power outlets. The system allows motion-detection zone settings so motion events are recorded and motion-event notifications are e-mailed to the user. The notification, which includes a file showing the captured image, can be sent to a smart phone with video-playback capability.

Zonare Medical Systems previewed its z.one Convertible Ultrasound platform, permitting the flexibility of a full-featured cart that converts to a portable system. Portability offers care advantages to patients with mobility issues. CTO Glen McLaughlin says z.one is half the cost of competitive systems thanks to its software-based platform built around a DSP. The software platform also allows for upgradeable performance, with software modifications via the Internet.

Sling Media cofounder Blake Krikorian showed his company's personal broadcast technology. The Slingbox uses the Internet to stream video content from a user's home set-top box so the user can view that content anywhere in the world. The home-base box has cable-in and Ethernet-out jacks enabling away-from-home program viewing on any laptop, PC, or Web device. The DSP helps optimize streaming video so users don't have the buffering delays typical of most streaming connections, said Krikorian.

Speaking of new ways to leverage broadband, Jay Rappaport, president of Vonage USA, told the workshop audience that DSPs have been integral to Vonage's mass-market voice-over-IP (VoIP) success, driving quality of service and ease of installation.

Developed by WorldGate and marketed by Motorola, the Ojo Personal Video Phone could make video telephony a reality. WorldGate chairman and CEO Hal Krisbergh says the time for video telephony has arrived thanks to the convergence of several factors: widespread broadband adoption, advances in computer processing and memory, and new video codecs. Ojo can encode and decode full-motion video in less than one-sixth of a second, eliminating the usual time lag between video and voice processing. Krisbergh also noted the use of the DSP versus a custom ASIC as the central processor, which will let the company cut costs from $750 to $350 per phone.

With great applications like these, it's easy to see why DSP designs are cooking! Hats off to all of you pushing the envelope with such innovative breakthroughs.

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