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Sensor Platforms Acquired

We’ve spent a lot of time on sensor fusion here, and there are three players that routinely come up: Hillcrest Labs, Movea, and Sensor Platforms. Frankly, the first two have featured somewhat more prominently because they do more selling of “shrink-wrapped” product (for lack of a better word), while Sensor Platforms has tended to play closer to the vest, working with specific clients to integrate their algorithms. We did see them in QuickLogic’s FPGA sensor hub solution.

This week, they signed papers with Audience that will make them a part of Audience. If you’re not familiar with Audience (as I wasn’t), you might wonder what the heck is going on here. And if you’re a Sensor Platforms customer, you might wonder what this all means for you. Let’s address both of those.

First off, Audience makes chips that help your cell phone (or whatever) acquire the capacity for the “cocktail party” effect. In essence, they make chips that computationally implement what’s referred to as “Auditory Scene Analysis” (if you can handle the mixed metaphor of an auditory scene). This is the process by which our brains take all of the sounds we hear simultaneously – which are nothing but mixes of longitudinal air waves with complex harmonic content – and somehow figures out how to segregate the sounds, assigns them to sources, and, critically, lets us focus on one set over another even when both sets have inputs at the same frequencies.

This is the essence of the cocktail party effect, where dozens of conversations are going on simultaneously, all with voices in more or less the same range, and yet we can concentrate on one conversation without having it get jumbled up by the other conversations. Cell phones aren’t good at this, amplifying the voice as well as nearby traffic, that squalling brat, and that damn parakeet in the background.

You might think of the auditory scene as the set of other clues and cues that the brain uses – which these days would probably be called “context.” And if you’ve seen Sensor Platforms’ CTO Kevin Shaw speak, you know that they’re all about context. It’s the next big prize after simple sensor fusion. And apparently they’ve been working with Audience on algorithms. At which point Audience decided they liked the technology and ponied up some cash to own it.

So what does this mean for Sensor Platforms’ business and customers? In their conference call, Audience said that they’ll continue to service existing customers and contracts. Going forward, it sounds like they plan a dual strategy: continue selling the software algorithms while also working them into their chipsets.

There are certain businesses – military and medical were mentioned as examples – where they see the possibility of adding value, but they don’t plan to develop hardware. So they can service these markets with software.

For those markets they do serve with hardware, they see themselves having a power advantage because they have hardware accelerators for much of what they do – and it turns out that there was a big overlap between the accelerators they already have and those that would be needed to implement the Sensor Platforms algorithms.

It also sounds like they’re bought off on continuing with the Open Sensor Platform project that Sensor Platforms and ARM recently announced.

You can find out more in the official announcement.

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