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Next generation digital MEMS loudspeakers by USound

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Digital speakers (Next generation digital MEMS loudspeakers by USound)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2021-11-30

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 to deliver that. The piezoelectric digital MEMS loudspeaker technology of USound facilitates fully automated manufacturing processes, 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 work schedules, and reduced factory lead times.

The objective of this project was to exploit piezo MEMS technology to its full capacity and introduce “Kore”, the next generation MEMS speaker under the product name Conamara 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 June 2019 and ended in November 2021.

In terms of technical advancements, USound has successfully assembled and tested the new speaker prototype.

In terms of organisational structure and innovation, USound has further elaborated its business plan and the commercialisation strategy based on ongoing market research and set up the internal structures required for sleek innovation processes and project alignment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and caused disruptions along the value chain, USound had to adapt the project plan partially and extend the project period for several months.

As this project spans across all departments, and the organisations is growing steadily, it was vital to set up reporting mechanisms and workflows so that information is not lost in the business process flow. Regular jour fixes, the set-up of digital communication tools and company-wide objectives and key results is one outcome over the project period. Intensified by the impacts of the pandemic in the second project period, USound focused on the establishment of online system structures and digital communication and workflows.

USound has also commenced disseminating information about the project and the developed product, starting from the Kore landing page to presentation materials as well as technical documentation and visual content. These elaborated materials have been spread on social media and teased at events and – supported by PR agencies – published in media channels. During the past years, USound has built a well-established network of contacts to disseminate information and news. This network is now, after the project’s final technical phase, activated step by step. If the pandemic allowed, physical events like fairs and conferences were attended. In addition, USound joined online events which partially replaced physical events since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After this SME project, USound is now about to push for full market entry and enhance customer take-up of the developed second generation MEMS speaker.
The SME Instrument project is now finalized and USound is in the middle of full market roll-out. The next steps include the following:
• Closing customer contracts (negotiations ongoing)
• Restart event activities as COVID-19 allows
• Intensify marketing activities
Kore First speaker prototype
Comparison of the Kore speaker (left) and previous USound micro speakers