When we talk about the things we missed during the shutdowns that were part of the early measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most common answers you hear is that people missed live events. Overnight, concerts and sporting events became things of the past, and for many their return would come to represent the most practical milestone for when we could say things were “back to normal.”
Today, people are returning to their favorite venues and cheering for their teams with a much sharper sense of community. And with the help of Silicon Labs, SMS is helping to make these experiences much more collaborative and memorable with its FreFlow wireless LED lighting system. Available as a light stick or a wearable band, FreFlow can change colors or flash in unison with the music or other elements of the performance. Imagine being in an audience of 10,000 screaming fans with everyone holding or wearing a pen-sized LED that strobed and blinked with the crowd. That feeling of community and creating a feedback loop between the artist and audience was at the heart of FreFlow’s development. This is particularly important in some venues where audience members are discouraged from singing along to prevent the spread of germs. FreFlow is a way to fill that gap and let the artists get feedback from the audience.
To create a wireless, controllable LED light stick that uses connectivity to enhance the experience of live entertainment through coordinated and customized lighting effects.
Silicon Labs’ BGM220S offered SMS a Bluetooth SIP module that met critical size and cost requirements while also expedite the design process through precertification.
The FreFlow LED light system is bringing unity and engagement to artists and audiences alike during live performances through synchronized, colorful effects via Bluetooth low energy
(LE) and sub-GHz RF.
Creating a User-Friendly (Stylish) LED Light System that Delivers on Performance
It's one thing to imagine this concept, but another to bring it to life. The FreFlow development team had some very specific design requirements, including size and cost. Nobody wants to wear a big, clumsy glowstick while trying to enjoy their favorite band, so size was an important consideration. And in order for FreFlow to make the desired impact, it needs to have full audience participation. This means making the per-unit cost feasible for providing thousands of units for each event was another important factor. Adding to the size and cost requirements, high performance was mission critical. Any delay or lag in RF performance would completely negate the impact of the intended effect.
With a product development runway of just a few months, SMS, began working on extending its existing sub-GHz model that utilized NFC tags to coordinate the location of each light. In this iteration, when an attendee arrives at the concert and purchases their FreFlow light stick, they would touch it against an NFC tag on their seat, which would then download the seat information to the FreFlow device. But as you can imagine, manually placing an NFC tag on each individual seat in a stadium can be quite time consuming and require a large staff. This became a significant cost adder to the price of putting on an event, so SMS wanted to design a system where fans could download their seat information to the FreFlow device using their smartphones. Since Bluetooth LE is ubiquitous on today’s smart phones, SMS began evaluating Bluetooth solutions as the basis for a new FreFlow design.
Evaluating Bluetooth LE Solutions and Selecting the BGM220S Bluetooth SiP Module
From the start, SMS knew it wanted a module solution in order to simplify development as much as possible. Being able to use a pre-certified module would also expedite the design process by allowing SMS to avoid the lengthy certification process needed for each different region where the FreFlow system might be used – which included wherever performers may tour around the world. But in its search, SMS discovered that most Bluetooth solutions were provided as PCB modules, which were too large to be effective. But the 6.0 x 6.0 x 1.1 SIP package of the BGM220S met the size, certification, and cost requirements SMS needed to make FreFlow stage ready. This was also the first time SMS’ development team would work with Bluetooth LE, so Silicon Labs was able to help them by not only supplying the components, but by offering engineering and development support to help them bring their vision to life.
The result is a compact, low-power light stick that can be tuned to respond to a controller or to music cues. For example, a FreFlow device can be programmed to respond to an audience member shaking it so it lights up, or it can be synchronized with music via its sub-GHz receiver. This gives artists and stage production personnel the flexibility to set specific responses based on the songs being played, the tempo of the song, or coordinate patterns that illuminate sections of the stadium in specific patterns.
SMS also benefited by working with Silicon Labs because it was able to secure the parts needed despite supply chain obstacles that challenged most industries during and after the pandemic.