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Next generation digital MEMS loudspeakers by USound

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Digital speakers (Next generation digital MEMS loudspeakers by USound)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2020-06-30

USound’s Vision is to be at the forefront of the digital transformation of the loudspeaker market. USound will be a recognised design house for innovative and high-quality acoustic system solutions based on the unique features of the MEMS technology. USound will achieve this by pursuing a fabless business model, concentrating on its core technological competences: audio and MEMS technology, ASIC integration and manufacturing know-how, as well as IP protection and exploitation.

Digitization in manufacturing is a development that will shape the economy for decades to come. The technology of USound is another milestone in this revolution, when it comes to the manufacturing process of devices with audio functions.

The loudspeaker is the last component, which has not yet been digitised due to technical restraints. Therefore, loudspeakers are difficult to integrate in the manufacturing flow, which causes manifold problems for manufacturers of micro-electronic devices. It is the only component with an analogue input, making proper EMC (Electro-magnetic compatibility) design a challenge in an otherwise completely digital layout. A digital component with standardised interface, inherently EMC-proof, that can be mounted within the reflow process, is needed and USound is able deliver that. The piezoelectric digital MEMS loudspeaker technology of USound makes fully automated manufacturing possible, while also improving sound quality, reducing the form factor and power requirements. Furthermore, as there is no magnet to drive the sound production, there is no need for rare earths elements, which are used to produce magnets. It also eliminates the magnetic field, which interferes with sensors next to it.

Due to the use of Si (Silicon), which is widely available without negative effects, and because no rare earth elements are needed (i.e. as for magnets), the production has less environmental impact compared to standard loudspeakers. Furthermore, the low power consumption saves energy.

USound’s technology is part of a digital revolution in manufacturing, which brings manifold changes to society. Advantages of this change in the production process include higher production rates and increased productivity, more efficient use of materials, better product quality, improved safety, shorter/more flexible workweeks for labour, and reduced factory lead times.

The objective of this project is to exploit piezo MEMS technology to its full capacity and introduce “Kore”, the next generation MEMS speaker to the market. Compared to USound’s first generation of MEMS-based loudspeakers, Kore is hexagonal instead of rectangular, making it more efficient in terms of the use of space in small wearables; it is also overall smaller in terms of form-factor and more powerful in SPL.
The project was launched in mid-2019 and is due to end in mid-2021. In the first reporting period from project launch to end of June 2020, the following activities have been performed:

In terms of technical advancements, we have successfully assembled and tested a first version of the new speaker prototype.

Furthermore, the first Kore modules were assembled and measured, resulting in an overall satisfying performance. However, to achieve improvements of the first version of Kore modules some modifications of the design are planned for the second funding period. After achieving the design freeze, the MEMS foundry qualification can continue.

In terms of organisational structure and innovation, we have updated our business plan and finalized the commercialisation strategy based on market research and set up the internal structures required for sleek innovation processes and project alignment. As this project spans across all departments, it was vital to set up reporting mechanisms and workflows so that no information is lost on the way. Regular jour fixes, the set-up of digital communication tools and company-wide objectives and key results are outcomes of the first phase.

We have also commenced disseminating information about the project and the future product; starting from the Kore landing page (https://www.usound.com/product/thera/) to presentation materials and technical documentation and first visual content. These materials have been spread on social media and teased at events and in media relations. USound has, in the previous years, already built a well-spread network of contacts over which to disseminate news. This network is now, as the project progresses technically, activated step by step.

The project’s overall impact:
For USound, this product has impacted HR in terms of training and job creation, strengthening the company with new competences. It is also strengthening the region as a location of research and development as working on this novel technology leads to the accumulation and retention of know-how, strengthening the innovative potential.

We have strengthened the bonds between EU and worldwide corporations and created new networks to advance the technology and create this new audio product.

Our innovation drives communication within society, facilitating audio devices that can be built smaller and more flexible. We strive to create products that help integrate technology more smoothly into the lives of human beings. In this matter, we do not only look at the audio entertainment industry, but also aspects such as hearing aids, support of elderly or impaired members of society who require smart personal audio assistants for essential parts of their lives.

Since the founding of USound, it was always our goal to create products that put the individual needs of humans in focus, be it via individualised audio filters and personalised hearing; or by supporting our customers by giving them the highest possible degree of design freedom to create wearables that are lightweight, comfortable and unintrusive – all without compromising the audio quality. Our current, interim results show us that we are on the right way to achieve this next level of micro speakers.

Although there are minor deviations from the planned time plan, we expect to finalize the project as planned.
The next steps include the following:
• Final design freeze
• Finalisation of manufacturing flow and qualification of MEMS foundry
• Restart event activities as COVID-19 allows
• Intensify marketing activities incl. further content as the speaker progresses
Kore First speaker prototype
Comparison of the Kore speaker (left) and previous USound micro speakers