Sabertron Systems, an Austin-based start-up company, exceeded its Kickstarter fundraising goal twice, from $50,000 to $100,000 and from $100,000 to $200,000. The revolutionary product that helped Sabertron Systems reach its milestone through the Kickstarter campaign is Sabertron. These innovative electronic foam swords enable players to keep score while dueling. This fun, cool gaming product uses Silicon Labs’ EFM32 microcontroller (MCU), and we interviewed Sabertron co-founder David Lynch to learn why his team chose Silicon Labs’ MCU as the energy-friendly brain inside their electronic sword.
Q: What is Sabertron? How does it work?
Sabertron is a foam sword that keeps score electronically while opponents safely engage in a sword fight. Sabertron employs a wireless link and an accelerometer to detect strikes to the body of your opponent as a hit, and detect strikes sword-to-sword as a block. There are currently five game modes available and users can control them via an integrated thin-film transistor (TFT) touchscreen menu and connect it to their iPhone/Android/Windows devices to keep track of game records.
Our mission is to bring a video game experience to the real world and make it as much fun and interactive as a video game. Video games in the 1980’s brought everyone indoors…We are going to get you back outside!
Watch the video ‘This "toy" just did $233,000 on Kickstarter’
Q: What challenges did you have when developing Sabertron?
The biggest challenge was making the transition from my background in PC programming to the embedded world. With embedded systems, all parts are manually connected to the processor, and there is no standard display. As I had no experience with an embedded processor, I was looking for something easy to work with, where I can find everything in one place without downloading multiple tools.
Finding the right embedded processor for the job was a tough challenge as well. I used an Arduino 8-bit processor--a really popular choice among hobbyists--in the early prototyping phase. But I needed the full power of a real IDE and faster processing speed. The Arduino IDE debugging capability was virtually nonexistent and the processing power was lacking compared to an ARM processor. I needed the capabilities that a 32-bit MCU provides in order to add more features to the product. For example, Arduino had a single SPI bus but I needed two busses for better performance. In the end, I switched to a 32-bit ARM processor to handle everything that I need, simultaneously.
Q: How did Silicon Labs’ MCU help you solve your design challenges?
When I decided to look into ARM-based microcontrollers, I evaluated different development kits and software platforms to find the best and easiest one for us. When I evaluated Simplicity Studio, I thought that the name was just right. The Simplicity Studio development tool was much easier to use compared to other tools, and it had everything in one place including energy debugger and code examples. It just helped get me up and running quickly. Without that, I would have struggled for many months to come up to speed on the embedded development process.
The EFM32 Tiny Gecko is pretty much perfect for my project. I has lots of useful hardware blocks for USART, UART, DAC, and comparators. The debugger included in Silicon Labs’ IDE is the only way I want to work on something.
I appreciate all energy modes in the EFM32 MCU. The five energy modes are clearly defined and VERY easy to implement. With the EM2 deep sleep mode, the MCU is technically still on, but it can stay in a very low power state without waking up the CPU. I can basically tell the MCU to go deep sleep and wake up when necessary or just check status occasionally. This allows me to keep the processor powered on an ultra-low power mode, to do a lot of fun little things like waking up the Sabertron sword briefly and making a little sound or glowing the blade to remind users to get out and play!
Q: How do Silicon Labs’ products ultimately benefit Sabertron users?
With Simplicity Studio, we can speed our time to market by reducing development time. It also means that we can provide various features to create a more engaging product and ensure longer battery life through the 32-bit low-power MCU.
Want to try out the Sabertron sword yourself? The first edition of Sabertron will be launched in Q1 2015 and you can pre-order three types of Sabertron (Apprentice, Master, GrandMaster) now on www.sabertron.com.