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Dspfactory -- Ultra Low-Power DSPs
Founded: Mar 1998
Status: Acquired by AMI for $42M, 10/04
Issue(s): 2/00, 8/01
80 King Street South, Suite 206
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 1P5
Tel: 519/884-9696
Fax: 519/884-0228

Dan Murray, Todd Schneider, and Dr. Robert Brennan founded Dspfactory in March 1998 “to embed ultra low-power, miniature digital signal processors invisibly into a wide range of products.” Originally a spin-off of Unitron Industries, Dspfactory’s initial mission was to complete the R&D of its ultra-miniaturized, ultra-low power DSP technology and then, once commercialized, take it into the global hearing aid marketplace. More recently, Dspfactory has decided to expand its strategy and deploy its capabilities across a wide range of industries and geographies.

Dspfactory recently raised CDN $7.7 million in third-round financing from current investors, including 4 major financial backers, along with employee shareholders. In November 2000, Dspfactory raised CDN $4 million in debt financing and, prior to that, raised CDN $4 million in March 2000. Investors include F.J. Stork Holdings, Southbridge Investment Partnership, Val O’Donovan, Robert McRae, private individuals, and employee shareholders. Dspfactory plans to attract one more round of private capital investment within the next 12 to 18 months, after which, it expects to advance to the IPO phase. The company has 47 employees with 30 in Canada and 17 in a Swiss design centre and European sales and marketing office.

Dspfactory develops ultra-miniaturized, ultra-low power, software-programmable, DSP technology for a wide range of applications including hearing aids, headsets, PDAs, personal digital audio players, embedded sensors, baseband wireless devices, cellular telephones, or any other portable, battery-powered DSP-based product where size and power consumption are as important as flexible software processing capabilities. The company has developed a low power, miniature open DSP platform for portable audio processing. Product plans include the Delta DSP chip, the Alpha analog interface chip, Toccata, a DSP hybrid for hearing aids, and the SmartCodec MCM for portable audio applications.

The DELTA-2 is an ultra low-power (less than 0.1 mW/MIPS at 1 volt) ASSP that incorporates a 16-bit Harvard DSP core and a weighted overlap-add (WOLA) filterbank coprocessor along with a set of peripherals that includes an SPI interface, 2 synchronous serial interfaces, a debug UART, a high-speed UART and 16 bits of GPIO. The WOLA filterbank and the DSP core operate concurrently offering 5 MIPS/MHz performance.

The WOLA filterbank coprocessor features programmable filter characteristics, oversampling and a programmable number of channels to provide from 4 to 128 high-fidelity channels with group delays as low as 6 ms for 16 channel filterbanks. The device integrates on-chip SRAM organized as 12 kwords of program memory and two 4-kword data memory spaces.

The ALPHA is an ultra low-power, 1 volt, mixed-signal sub-system that incorporates two 14-bit ADCs, a 14-bit DAC, programmable input gain preamplifiers, a programmable output attenuator, an on-chip 1.28 MHz oscillator and a number of other peripherals. A single-wire serial interface provides software control of the ALPHA chip. This interface also provides access to a 6-input 10-bit low-speed ADC and an infra-red receiver. The ALPHA is designed to interface with the DELTA-2, although it can be interfaced to a range of other DSP hardware.

The Toccata hybrid is a dual-input, software programmable DSP system for hearing aids that consumes less than 1 mW at 1.2 volts. Toccata incorporates the ALPHA, DELTA-2 and an EEPROM into a package specifically designed for hearing aid applications. It supports the simultaneous operation of complex algorithms including multi-channel dynamic range compression (up to 128 channels), noise attenuation and directional processing. The SmartCODEC MCM provides a complete DSP subsystem incorporating the ALPHA, DELTA-2 and an EEPROM in a micro-BGA package.

According to dspfactor, until now, even digital hearing aids contain a restrictive fixed algorithm specifically designed to improve selected hearing loss problems. Dspfactory believes the Toccata chipset, with its open platform capabilities and its related Toccata Design Kit, will revolutionize the hearing aid industry by offering more flexibility and more functionality. Manufacturers and Audiologists will be able to download and install the most current and relevant algorithm for the client-specific hearing loss.

Several hearing aid manufacturers are testing or have already chosen to deploy the Toccata chipset into their next generation of hearing aid products. Intrason, a Paris, France-based manufacturer, recently acquired the Toccata licensing rights for its newly launched line of DSP hearing aid products.

Dspfactory has two primary sources of competition: large DSP providers and inhouse design projects of potential customers. Dspfactory stays under the radar scope of large DSP companies by serving niches of little interest to these players. Its chipsets strike the right balance of low power, small size, and computation speed for these markets. And the company provides a cost-effective total DSP solution to address inhouse competition.

Delta 2.0, Alpha 1.0, and Toccata are in production now. Delta 2.0 is fabricated by TSMC on a 0.18u process and Alpha 1.0 is fabricated by EM Marin on its ALP 1u process. The SmartCodec MCM package will be available in early Q4. The company’s roadmap includes next generation Toccata chipsets for hearing aid applications that focus on further reductions in size and power, increased processing, increased fidelity, etc. Toccata 2 will be available in Q2 2002 with Toccata 3 targeted for Q2 2003. The company is also developing solutions for headset, PDA and multimedia applications.

Robert Tong, CEO (previously Senior VP of the Space Products BU at COM DEV)

Dr. Peter Balsiger, President, Dspfactory SA (previously Department Head for DSP systems and IC Design at the Institute of Microtechnology (IMT) at the University of Neuchâtel. He was the founder and CEO of Lopsys SARL, an ASIC design company spun off from IMT)

Dan Murray, VP, Hearing Aid BU (previously the founding President of Dspfactory following its spin-off from Unitron Industries)

Geoff Bellew, VP of Sales and Marketing (previously President and CEO, AFP Wealth Management, an ING subsidiary)

Dr. Robert Brennan, VP of Research (previously conducted DSP research projects, including work in the field of noise reduction at Unitron Industries)

Iain Hastings, VP of Operations (previously Product Line Director at COM DEV)

Bobbi Holte, VP of Finance (previously VP Finance at software developer Waterloo Maple)

Todd Schneider, VP of Technology (previously held DSP technology related positions at the Hearing Health Care Research Unit (HHCRU) at the University of Western Ontario, Etymotic Development, and Unitron)

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