BRIAN SANTO: I’m Brian Santo, EE Times Editor in Chief, and you’re listening to EE Times on Air. This Day Two of our special series of podcasts reporting live from the Consumer Electronics Show in beautiful Nevada.
In today’s episode:
We’ve got an interview with NXP CTO Lars Reger…
…also, another live interview from CES Unveiled with an executive of Atmosic, which has created a nifty new Bluetooth device that harvests energy from its environment to power – well – all sorts of things…
…we’ve also got another live interview with the developers of a squishable portable speaker…
…and we have a quick recap of the press events held by AMD, which wowed the crowd, and by Intel, which… didn’t.
At last year’s CES, international editor Junko Yoshida interviewed NXP Semiconductors’ Lars Reger, who had just been named CTO of the company. Twelve months have gone by, we’re all back in Las Vegas, and Junko caught up with Reger again.
Reger has a track record of promoting boldly unorthodox projects. He pushed the development of CMOS radar chips long before it was obvious that radar rendered in CMOS would succeed. More recently, he became an advocate for the use of Ultra-Wide Band – or UWB – reviving a technology that years ago had been abandoned.
Reger has a habit of dreaming about the technically impossible. More important, he loves talking about his technical dreams. Junko asked him about his experience as a CTO.
LARS REGER: Last year, I started in December bringing together all the technical roadmaps of the different business units of the entire company and trying to find a common ground of these portfolios that we have. And the early dream in those days was that we are the company for all smart-connected devices that can basically sense the environment, think of smart advice, connect to the cloud if needed and send the smart advice to the arms and legs of the robot or the smart-connected device that you want to build. Adding safety and security to that, and you’re done. So if NXP could only be that company that can excel in all of these six technical sectors, we are unbeatable.
In the meantime, a lot has materialized, and in each of these six packets, we can show how we move the needle for the industry. That is already partially a dream come true for me so that this story really resonates, that we have ingredients to show what we can do. That we can walk the talk.
JUNKO YOSHIDA: Okay. I want to go down to specifics, because as I was telling you before, NXP’s announcement of UWB kind of surprised us because I used to think UWB was dead and why is it coming back, what it’s for? That’s something really unexpected to me, but as a layman. So tell me how you started to imagine or reimagine UWB. When was that? And for what occasion?
LARS REGER: The discussion on Ultra-Wide Band is already pretty also technically a new Ultra-Wide Band, of course, since its beginning of the standardization in the early 2000s as a communication technology. But then it lost against WiFi and was dead as a communication technology. I continued discussing with a couple of industry leaders on the key development side is how do we define the next generation of car key electronics. That always was a good discussion, but just only recently. We then came to the conclusion that, technically, it will work to use this technology to really remove the entire key ring in your pocket and not only use it for car access, but integrate it into smart portable devices– in your watch, in your phone– and access everything with an already standardized technology. So no one needs to redevelop, redefine it again. You can really go with that technology, integrate it into your smart portable devices and access the entire world around you.
JUNKO YOSHIDA: Right. But you started to imagine the original impetus was that, what if we use it for a car key? Right?
LARS REGER: You’re right. So the initial discussions were exactly on how do we make the car keys more secure, how do we make them smaller, how can it be integrated better and so on. The only discussion then came when we discussed, Yeah, but we can make car key handling much easier. You send basically a security certificate like a banking transaction to your mobile phone, and with that you have a two-day car key and so on. And then we discussed with a couple of technical dreamers as well, saying, Wouldn’t that work also for your hotel key? For your front door? For your garage door? Isn’t it annoying at the moment that you need to have one key per lock and you’re running around with 20 different keys. If you have the language for the key– Ultra-Wide Band, IEEE standardization already defined– and you use one of our secure elements that we’re using in passports or banking cards as the keyboard, and your combine those two and you integrate them into your smartphone or your watch, couldn’t this be your universal key platform for all things that you today use a key. And it was just basically a story-telling, dreaming activity.
Then of course a couple of hundred if not thousand people in our company, but also in the partnering companies, started getting active in this area and started innovating in that domain.
JUNKO YOSHIDA: Actually, I have never heard a CTO talking about story-telling. Story-telling is something that marketing or PR people always talk about. So tell us about the importance of story-telling within an organization as a CTO.
LARS REGER: Good point. We have 30,000 people in the company, 10,000 engineers in the company, and of course the company will only be a world champion if most of these people are working in an aligned way as a team. Know what the purpose is. So in other words, what you call story-telling is basically sharing a vision. And even if this vision is a bit far out and technically not realistic today, at least if you can bring a compelling story to the people, this will create thought leadership, or in other words, there will be 10,000 hopefully that are thought followers. And if you have thought leaders and thought followers, then suddenly you can start crafting a joint roadmap going forward. And people will tell you what is not do-able today or would could be do-able in the future and so on. But you are starting a conversation, and nothing else I’m doing. So it’s just trying to put a vision out there. And people tell me where it’s working and where it’s not working. But then using 10,000 brains and not my own to realize this.
JUNKO YOSHIDA: But also as a CTO, you have to have something to back it up. In other words, you use the word also “dreamer.” Dreamer is something that I don’t really associate with a regular engineer. Regular engineers always tell you, Oh, that’s not possible. We’re not going to do that. That’s kind of a regular engineering response to a sort of dreamlike project. So tell me about yourself. When you were a kid, you were talking about how you were a little strange because you weren’t just dreaming, you actually started to architect, I guess with a pen and piece of paper, architecture of a submarine at the age of seven?
LARS REGER: Yeah. That is a funny childhood story. Indeed, I started dreaming of building my own little tiny research submarine to see what’s happening underwater. That drove me later also in studying physics and doing my MBA and just trying to have a solid technical background. I mean, there is a difference between being overly pessimistic and realistic and every time telling what is not do-able technically. On the other side, being such a dreamer that you are so unrealistic that you are losing your technical followership. So the fine line in between having a solid technical understanding, knowing what could be possible, you don’t know how to realize it in the last instance, but what could at least be possible. And then trying to get the followership supporting you. That is of course the key ingredient. And for that you need to have a pretty good technical understanding, but at least physically is do-able.
JUNKO YOSHIDA: Got it. Thank you very much.
LARS REGER: My pleasure. Thank you.
BRIAN SANTO: NXP is at CES showing cybersecurity solutions, and it will also demonstrate how Ultra-Wide Band can be useful in any number of IoT applications.
CES Unveiled is an event held before the official opening of CES, where many of the stand-out products at the show are highlighted for a media crowd. In yesterday’s podcast, we spoke with Jim McGregor of Tirias Research, who had sifted through some of the products presented at CES Unveiled. One that caught his eye was an energy-harvesting Bluetooth device from a company called Atmosic. I circled back around to talk to the company.
SRINIVAS PATTAMATTA: Hi, I’m Srinivas Pattamatta. I’m the VP of Marketing and Business Development for Atmosic Solutions. We are a Bluetooth chip company. Two unique things about us is our Bluetooth is very, very low power– five to ten times lower than anyone in the market– and then we also have added a unique thing, which is energy harvesting to the Bluetooth chip. And as a result of that, you can do one of two things: A) you can actually extend the battery life five to ten years, or in some special cases, you can run without any battery and you can use any energy like RF, thermal, photo or motion.
BRIAN SANTO: Okay, so you’re showing us a PC, a laptop, here on display. Is this specifically for PCs? Or can it be any battery-operated device?
SRINIVAS PATTAMATTA: Our Bluetooth solution can be with any battery-operated device in the IoT market. Specifically on the consumer side, think of remote controls, wearables, form machination devices. On the IoT industrial side, think of beacons and tracking devices and so on.
BRIAN SANTO: That’s fantastic. So can you go actually battery-free with any particular devices?
SRINIVAS PATTAMATTA: We can go battery-free in many applications where there is enough energy and you’re not transmitting every microsecond. For example, think of an asset-tracking device in a hospital. You have 50,000 assets in a 1,000-bed hospital. And those don’t need to be tracked every minute. If you just harvest enough energy and send a beacon every hour, that’s good enough. Or think of a door lock that you use your phone to power the door lock and then it unlocks itself. The phone powers the door lock. Or think of a keyboard that is sitting in front of the laptop, and the wireless energy coming from the laptop can actually hook up to the keyboard and then actually harvest energy.
BRIAN SANTO: Are there specific energy types you can harvest? Can you harvest any type of energy?
SRINIVAS PATTAMATTA: Today we can harvest RF, thermal, photo and also motion. In the future, we are going to add others as well.
BRIAN SANTO: Okay. Can you think of one of the coolest applications that your energy harvesting device is enabling?
SRINIVAS PATTAMATTA: Yeah. Think of a switch that is connected to a Bluetooth socket. Now you can place the switch anywhere you want, and it doesn’t require any battery. And just the motion of turning on and off the switch will power the Bluetooth solution inside the switch.
BRIAN SANTO: Very cool. Srinivas, thank you very much.
SRINIVAS PATTAMATTA: Thank you so much.
BRIAN SANTO: After talking to Atmosic, a guy in the booth next door caught our attention. He was expanding and collapsing something that looked like a portable speaker as if it were an accordion. It turns out that’s exactly what it was. A speaker, not an accordion. I asked the guy doing the squishing to introduce himself.
GREGG STEIN: Hi, I’m Gregg Stein. I’m the CEO of POW Audio.
BRIAN SANTO: Okay, Gregg is holding what looks to be a speaker. It’s white. It’s roughly the size of a man’s fist. And he just squished it. So tell us why you got away with squishing your speaker and why you did that.
GREGG STEIN: Squishy speaker. I love that. Basically, we have the patent on an audio expansion technology called WaveBloom. WaveBloom allows a speaker to expand and contract. It’s founded by actually a dad and his son. His son is a guy named Pam, and he was actually going in and out of a professional hockey player, and he’s going in and out of the locker room looking for a great audio speaker, right? He couldn’t find one, so him and his dad, who’s an amazing designer, developed this audio expansion technology. You want to know where it came from? The inspiration came from one of those collapsible doggy bowls. You ever see those?
BRIAN SANTO: Yeah.
GREGG STEIN: Pretty cool, right? Well anyway, they took that, they connected it to an audio speaker, and that basically became the impetus for WaveBloom technology, which we now have the patent on.
BRIAN SANTO: And when you pop it out, that gives you a bigger sound chamber, right?
GREGG STEIN: As we say, “It’s all in the air.” Right? So on the back, it’s actually magnetic as well on the mode that I’m showing you right here. And basically you can put that on a golf cart or a refrigerator or anything like that. When you do that, you’re going to get an even bigger sound. Why? Because the sound, it’s all in the air. It’s resonating right out of the back of the speaker, and it creates like a plenum. You get a much bigger sound yet again.
BRIAN SANTO: Very cool. Thanks, Gregg
GREGG STEIN: Thank you!
BRIAN SANTO: We’ve got a roundup of even more things we saw at CES Unveiled on the web site at eetimes.com. That story is mirrored on our site dedicated to our CES coverage at ces.eetimes.com. The story is called, “CES Unveiled: Know Thyself, Groom Thyself.”
Yeah, while there was definitely some cool stuff on display, a lot of companies seem to be flailing for a reason to exist and are creating devices designed to measure stuff that does not need measuring. Some of those devices are harmless, like toothbrushes, but others seem to us invasive and/or creepy. Read the story and see if you agree.
CES is all about consumer electronics: TVs, toy robots, coffee makers, car stereos and the like. But years ago, companies that provide enabling technology started participating as well. CES is now an important platform for chip companies, who tend to make big announcements during the two days of press conferences prior to the official opening of the CES show floor.
Yesterday, AMD and Intel were prominent among the presenters. EE Times European correspondent Nitin Dahad is here in Las Vegas with me and Junko, and here he is covering AMD’s big announcements yesterday.
NITIN DAHAD: AMD CEO, Lisa Su, sounded ebullient in her press keynote at CES 2020, as she promised to deliver the best-ever experience to gamers and creators with the announcement of four new desktop and mobile GPUs. This included the world’s first 64 core high-end desktop processor, the Threadripper 3990X which, to use a very English expression, knocks the socks off anything else in terms of graphics performance for high definition video rendering without any tear or stutter. The new mobile processors, the AMD Ryzen 4000U series (again, which is on the 7 nanometer process) feature up to eight cores and 16 threads and she said, deliver disruptive performance for ultra-thin laptops within a configurable 15 watt power envelope. Of course, there were a number of laptops she also announced from Dell and ASUS and others.
BRIAN SANTO: In general, the response to AMD’s announcements were positive. There’s general acknowledgement the company is closing the gap with Intel.
Intel, on the other hand, had its EVPs, Navin Shenoy and Greg Bryant, who were enthusiastic, as were a few of their guest speakers, but after all was said and done, most of the excitement was generated by Intel’s canned playlist of ultrahip modern pop and almost painfully effervescent interstitial music. In terms of announcing new silicon though, Intel was underwhelming.
The company celebrated the integration of artificial intelligence directly in its Ice Lake processors, which had been previously announced, and it touted the integration of WiFi 6, which had been previously announced, and its integration of graphics processing, called Xe, in its new generation Tiger Lake processors, which had previously been announced. Bryant triumphantly held up examples of both the chip and a compact board featuring the chip, suggesting that Tiger Lake will be found in products commercialized in 2020.
We asked Tirias Research Analyst Kevin Krewell what he thought about Intel’s presentation. He noted that Intel focused heavily on mobile, and on AI in PCs – even the long awaited Xe graphics was positioned for mobile, he noted. Both AI and Xe graphics are integrated in Tiger Lake, and in a discrete manner as a graphics processor unit that the company designated the DG1. The DG1, Krewell said, is going to disappoint some people who were looking for an Nvidia-killer GPU, however.
That said, the Tiger Lake processor was at the heart of a laptop demo that was pretty nifty. It was powering what Intel called the world’s first 17-inch foldable OLED PC. The two screen halves can operate independently, or they can be combo’d into one seamless 17-inch screen.
There was also a cool presentation on a technology that Intel first talked about two or three years ago. Intel VP James Carwana from Intel Sports showed off the company’s motion-capture technology, which captures motion not in 2D with pixels, but in 3D, with what Carwana referred to as “boxels.”
The idea is to capture a sporting event once; do some massive, furious processing; and then stream graphic reproductions from just about any viewpoint. Carwana showed a football game as an example – an actual game played earlier this year in which the Cardinals beat the Browns 38-24. He showed a stream from the end zone, one from overhead, one from the quarterback’s point of view, and one from the point of a safety – all reconstructed by computer. Intel worked on speed of reproduction first. It can deliver up to 60 frames per second pretty quickly. The next stage is to improve graphics quality, which currently falls far short of what gamers are used to in Madden Football, for example.
As tantalizing as all that might sound to sports fans, they won’t see this any time soon, however. Carwana said his group still needs six times more power to get the graphics right. Bryant promised to deliver it though, eventually.
And that’s where we conclude our second day of coverage of the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show.
EE Times On Air is doing a series of special podcasts live from the Consumer Electronics Show, with an episode yesterday, this one today, and another tomorrow. We’ve also got coverage on a special site set up specifically for the CES 2020 show. Find it at ces.eetimes.com.
Thanks for listening, and check back with us tomorrow for more from CES 2020 in Las Vegas.
This podcast is Produced by AspenCore Studio. It was Engineered by Taylor Marvin and Greg McRae at Coupe Studios. The Segment Producer was Kaitie Huss. The transcript of this podcast can be found on EETimes.com. Find our podcasts on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Blubrry or the EE Times website. I’m Brian Santo.