Marco Scandurra, co-founder of Greenwing Audio, talks about his start-up company and its new earbuds product, Split, which enables listening to music without cables or dongles around the neck.
Q1. For those who are not familiar with Greenwing Audio, could you briefly tell us about the company and the team?
The company is a start-up based in Miami Beach, Florida. We are a small team made up of individuals with different backgrounds in Science and Engineering, but we all had the same goal: to free personal audio from wires and cables. We began researching a few years ago to realize earphones that are not physically connected. We are now in the development stage of the product and have several working prototypes that we need to take to the production stage. That’s why we launched a Kickstarter campaign – to discover potential investors who can help us take the product to the next stage.
Q2. What inspired you to design Split?
I personally listen to music all the time when I walk, commute to work, and exercise. People of all ages do. I thought how amazing would be to listen to music without anything around your neck, like cables or dongles, as well as not having to press buttons or lower your head to select a song on a touchscreen.
That was the starting point for making a product appealing to many people. In addition, since we started the Kickstarter campaign, we have received a lot of feedback about how we can improve the product and how to make it even more interesting. This feedback inspires our team to keep going forward.
Q3. What are main differences between Split when compared to existing earbuds currently on the market?
Several companies have produced Bluetooth wireless headsets. What we offer is a different approach: Our earphones are stand-alone and require no additional hardware to play music. They also do away with Bluetooth reducing the radiation you are exposed to and the hassle of pairing the earbuds to another device. We had to make a lot of strategic choices during the course of developing Split and decided to focus on the portability of the earbuds, which renders your head and neck free from earphone cables and produces a very small, light and easy-to-carry device. We provide the benefit of listening to music without having to carry additional boxes in your pocket or strapped to your arm which is particularly attractive for young people or for people who exercise.
Q4. It’s interesting that users can adjust volume and tracks by bite clicks. Could you explain the technology enabling this?
The earphones have 3-axis accelerometers detecting teeth bite clicks. When the user bites once, Split can detect this vibration, which has a distinctive signature, and skip track. It’s a design advantage to have a highly integrated ARM processor with on-board analog peripherals for signal conditioning. The analog peripherals allow to manage the accelerometer output and to discriminate acoustic wave forms.
When users double-bite the processor increases volume. There are several preset volumes that can be selected to achieve the listening volume that you like. It’s a simple user interface.
– Can users sing or speak while listening to the music?
Yes, if you sing or speak, the control interface will not fire because different types of vibrations are involved. But if you chew or eat it might happen. In order to prevent accidental changes, you can lock the user interface. You can easily do this by tapping one earphone. Once you lock the interface, you can do whatever you want while music plays in the background and Split will not change tracks or volume. If you want to unlock, you simply tap the earphone again. The user interface is very simple.
Q5. I would like to ask some questions regarding EFM32 microcontrollers; are there any reasons why your team chose the EFM32 for your product?
We conducted a lot of research on microcontrollers for this application. We found Energy Micro (now Silicon Labs) to be the smallest in terms of footprint and the one with lowest power consumption. The EFM32 consumes only a few mAmps during playback and most of the power used in our application is by the DAC and amplifier, not the microcontroller. You can also use different energy modes when you use the EFM32 MCUs to optimize power consumption by switching from one to the other. The low power consumption was absolutely one of our differentiators in Split.
The back side of the Split circuit showing: 1. The flash memory, and 2. The EFM32 ARM processor with integrated analog peripherals and high speed operational amplifiers.
Q6. You have almost half a month to go until the deadline for the Kickstarter funding; can you share some development and production plans following the deadline?
We expect to complete the design of the USB interface first, and then the hardware and software based on it. While the product is almost complete, there are always risks in introducing a new technology to the market. We haven’t had the device tested by thousands of users, so we want to see how the user interface is accepted and if we get any feedback for improving Split.
In terms of production plans, we need some investment to bring it to mass production and also need to manufacture Split in large quantities to keep the price competitive (target price = 149 USD). We plan to introduce it to the larger market during mid-summer of 2014, depending on the amount of investment, the outcome of our Kickstarter campaign and how the team will be expanded with special expertise.
Q7. Is it possible that the next generation model of Split will have a larger memory size, longer battery life and more sophisticated options added?
Yes, that’s something we are already working on, based on the feedback from Kickstarter. We can’t include all the features in the first model, but we plan to double the memory capacity with the next generation of Split, which is slated for release within the next 12-18 months. We are working hard to extend battery life, probably a few hours longer, but realistically Split’s battery will never last as much as cell phone batteries. Whatever is possible by means of new technologies we’ll look into.
Want to back this inspiring project? Visit the Kickstarter project page here.
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