Play Impossible has reinvented the ball by connecting it to phones and tablets. They’ve managed to do this while maintaining the look and feel like a ball found on any gymnasium floor. Launched in October of last year, Play Impossible won first place at the Last Gadget Standing competition at CES in December. With rave reviews from USA Today, CNN, and Mashable, Play Impossible’s Gameball is capturing the hands and minds of kids as it provides another way to play ball with the modern insight of today’s connected devices. Silicon Labs had the opportunity to sit down with cofounder and CTO Kevin Langdon to hear how the company got its start and what he sees for the future.
How did Play Impossible come about?
All of the founders of the company are dads. And as parents, we have all struggled with the amount of time our kids spend on devices. This particular problem was the impetus for the company - how do we get our kids up off the couch in active play and doing what we call active play. Active play is physical and involves movement, but it’s also social and creative in nature. These are important things that many kids today aren’t getting enough of, and there are plenty of studies saying this is only getting worse. Getting kids to move and play is what Play Impossible is all about.
The quality of Gameball is amazing - it’s a real ball.
Yes. If you couldn’t see the charging part, most people would not know there are electronics inside of the ball. The quality of the ball was important to us, but that aspect of the product definitely was not in our wheelhouse, and we didn’t want to reinvent the process. So we partnered with Baden Sports, which specializes in sports equipment, to build the ball.
What were some of the original design requirements when you set out to create the ball?
We really wanted to create something with a reasonable price point, especially when it’s sitting on a shelf next to $5 balls in a retail setting. The connection range of the device was critical as well. We needed a Bluetooth to stay connected as far as you could throw the ball. Silicon Labs played a big role in helping us do this. Power was another issue – creating a solution that didn’t get in the way in terms of charging.
What was Silicon Labs’ value proposition in the beginning?
I first started looking at Blue Gecko when I was working on another product for SkyGolf. And then with Gameball, we looked at a lot of modules and realized the range and low-power functions were two pieces that we knew Silicon Labs could help with.
Were there any unforeseen challenges that you came across, such as weight, size, etc.
The hardest part for us was getting the durability right with all of the electronics inside. We also came up with a unique solution for the power. There is no battery in the ball, it runs entirely on super capacitors. We needed to do that for both cost reasons and to maintain the durability. I’m pretty happy with the solution we came up with - it’s a real jaw dropper when people see our ball charge up in 20 seconds.
What was the Last Gadget Standing competition at CES like?
There were hundreds of applicants and they narrowed it down to 10 gadgets on stage. I had no expectations of being selected, but when we were, we were honored. One of the gadgets was a Star Wars VR gadget, and it was two months after Star Wars had hit movie theaters. But it went really well and was a lot of fun. The host, David Pogue, was tough and asked a bunch of questions, but he loved the product.
What types of pressures are you under to be innovative – is it developing new games, cost of goods, talent? It’s definitely creating new games. It’s a combination of making the ball new again. Anyone who has a kid knows kids typically like a new toy for a few days, but then on the fourth day, the toy tends to be thrown into the closet. We want to make sure our product is played with a long time beyond those four days. The new games we create make the ball new again and give the kid a reason to get the Gameball back. We are driven to create hit games that are what everyone is talking about.
Is all of the production for Gameball done in house?
When we first started, we hired an experienced gaming designer to build the game, as it’s definitely not a traditional game. We had to do a lot of heavy prototyping and understand the software and hardware capabilities. We had to figure out what the product would be capable of doing socially and with Bluetooth and power. We definitely pushed the limits in terms of what we could do with those functionalities. For example, with a lot of IoT products, real time doesn’t matter. Of course it’s always important to be quick, but real time isn’t critical. With us, if you look at other playables on the market with Bluetooth, I don’t think there are any products as fast as Gameball. The game requires feedback from your fingers on the ball as quickly as possible to get the gestures from the beginning with the ball.
Where do you see the future of IoT going? And where do you see it expanding for the everyday person?
Right now, expectations are low among the average consumer of what IoT is all about. When our product is sitting on a shelf at a retail location, no matter how much we put on that box, there is little a consumer can understand about the product until they actually play with it. It’s going to take years for consumers to change and expect connectivity in everything. The nice thing is it’ll be much easier at that point for businesses such as ours. But today, it’s a critical issue for us in terms of marketing and sales. We see ourselves as a software platform that can interact with many different devices. Gameball is just the first of many devices and accessories that will change how we play in the future.
The benefits of mesh technology continue to gain traction among IoT developers as end-users experience sizeable application performance gains from IoT devices tapping this type of wireless interconnection network.
In the new whitepaper, “Selecting the Appropriate Wireless Mesh Network Technology,” we give IoT developers much-needed advice into considerations required for selecting wireless mesh networks for IoT applications, such as lighting systems, retail beacon systems, or building or home automation.
Mesh networks use connected devices as nodes to extend connectivity, shortening proximity ranges for connectivity and allowing device-to-device communication often without the need of a cloud gateway. For instance, the connectivity range for lighting systems is extended every time a new light is introduced to the system, enabling any light switch action to stay within the mesh network instead of being transmitted over a cloud gateway. One of the main benefits of mesh networks is their ability to remove latency issues and speed device application performance.
The new whitepaper hits briefly on some of the applications benefiting from mesh networks, yet focuses mainly on explaining the nuances of integrating IoT devices into wireless mesh networks.
Interoperability with already deployed wireless protocols, such as Zigbee and Bluetooth, is discussed in length in the paper, along with best practices using the Thread mesh protocol. Different service providers have requirements for a specific protocol and/or multiple protocols; therefore, designers must be aware of these details when selecting the appropriate connectivity solution. Many existing devices use Zigbee, and for new devices based on a technology such as Bluetooth mesh, an interoperability strategy either through the end device or gateway supporting multiple protocols needs to be considered. Several other important interoperability insights are discussed in the paper, as well as the importance of ensuring the entire connectivity ecosystem is addressed and adaptation of IP at the gateway is successful, as needed.
Another valuable theme conveyed is the use of wireless standards and how to use the protocols depending on the type of device and application. Of the three standards discussed in the paper, the Thread mesh standard is the only protocol based on IPv6, providing several unique benefits, such as end-to-end routing and addressability on the same or across networks. Development tips are also discussed, such as the fact that Bluebooth low energy can be combined with Zigbee to simplify device setup via Bluetooth commissioning, using smart phones for Zigbee devices or to provide the Bluetooth connectivity needed to support Apple Homekit.
Silicon Labs has a multiprotocol software and hardware solution designed to solve many of the issues detailed in this article, which helps designers design a single product supporting multiple wireless connectivity protocols. This can be the same device capable of connectivity to multiple protocols in the field, or a device with the ability to be configured in the field or factory to one of a number of different wireless protocols.
As is often the case, one protocol may not be able to meet the needs of all products and markets, though this paper provides a fair amount of insight into which one to consider depending on the type of application the designer is tackling.
Significant investment is pouring into data centers as the enterprise market accelerates its increased use of cloud-based computing solutions and the demand for lower latency intensifies. Wireless networks are also experiencing tremendous change as networks move from 4G/LTE to LTE-Advanced and 5G systems.
In a new whitepaper by James Wilson, Senior Marketing Director of Timing Products at Silicon Labs, details how data centers and wireless networks are equipping themselves to handle these enormous changes by adopting high-speed 100G Ethernet. Although a popular and cost-effective solution, the increased use of optical high-speed Ethernet is driving the need for high-performance clock and frequency control products in both wireless network and data center environments.
The new paper details why clock and frequency products are playing a crucial role in these two technological evolutions. For example, several specific technical obstacles have arisen within data centers as they use the Ethernet to support the rapid shift of enterprise workloads to cloud infrastructure. The majority of data center traffic stays within the data center as workload processing is distributed across multiple computer nodes, posing a serious problem to data centers. To clear this hurdle, data centers are starting to optimize their network architecture to support distributed, virtualized computing by connecting every switch to each other, otherwise known as hyperscale computing.
The Ethernet is critical to making hyperscale possible as data center switches quickly move from 25G, to 50G, to 100G to expedite data transfer and network efficiency. This speedy migration is driving data center equipment manufacturers to upgrade switch and access ports to higher speeds, fueling the need for higher performance, lower jitter timing solutions. Ultra-low jitter clocks and oscillators are necessary in these applications because high clock noise can result in unacceptably high bit-error rates or lost traffic.
As the paper details, mobile networks are also experiencing seismic change as operators prepare to support mobile data traffic expected to grow by 49 exabytes per month by 2021, a sevenfold increase since 2016. To meet the aggressive bandwidth demands, wireless networks are being re-architected and optimized for data transport with widescale adoption of high-speed Ethernet in radio access networks (RAN). The whitepaper lays out how the wireless industry is starting to re-envision base station architectures. Unlike the distributed model of 4G/LTE, where RF and baseband processing functions were split into separate remote radio heads (RRH) and base band units (BBU), the connection between baseband and radio elements, known as the fronthaul network, are being optimized for LTE-Advanced/5G networks.
To ensure fronthaul networks can handle the new bandwidth constraints being placed on them with the proposed new architecture, numerous standards have developed. Highlighted in detail within the paper, the new fronthaul standards are driving the need for frequency flexible timing solutions that can support both LTE and Ethernet clocking in radio heads, small cells, and pico cells. These new solutions provide the opportunity for hardware designs to unify all clock synthesis into a single, small-form factor IC.
For wireless infrastructure and data center architects, the paper is a must read. Providing readers with detailed architecture and IC illustrations, the article will give readers better perspective on effectively leveraging the Ethernet while maintaining flexible, accurate timing and synchronization – which ultimately, prevents the loss of traffic and/or data error in either environment.
Read the full paper here.
Trade show season is in full swing, and we’re looking forward to our upcoming trip to Nürnberg, Germany for Embedded World 2018. With over a thousand exhibitors and more than 30,000 attendees, this is the premier event for embedded systems design in the world. And Silicon Labs will be there showing off the latest silicon, software, and solutions that have made us a leader in IoT.
If you’re there, plan on coming by Stand 4A.128 to check out the following demos. And if you want to meet with us, register here.
Come discover why our newest Wi-Fi chips and modules with best in class power and sensitivity are the ideal solution for IoT and other embedded applications. We'll also show you how the advanced security features in these devices, like built-in secure link, secure debug and secure boot protect help your devices and code.
Highly capable, low power systems can be hard to develop, especially when adding wireless connectivity. We’re working to solve this challenge. When your application needs long-range wireless, innovative features, and longer battery-life, our new EFM32 Giant Gecko MCU and the pre-certified Digi XBee3 smart modem come to the rescue. Stop by and see how these solutions, along with Micrium OS and advanced development tools address this challenge in IoT.
Isolation is critical in wired communication, protecting both hardware and humans operating the hardware from high voltages. This demo will show two industrial EFM8 microcontrollers communicating through Silicon Labs’ isolators for a more robust system.
Silicon Labs’ multiprotocol solutions enable advanced connectivity without increased cost or complexity. We’ll be showing off our latest innovations in dynamic multiprotocol, combining Bluetooth and Proprietary Sub-GHz in a single multiprotocol, multi-band wireless SoC.
See how our Bluetooth solutions seamlessly sync with Apple HomeKit and Bluetooth LE applications. With our Blue Gecko and voice over Bluetooth software and hardware, you can enhance your third party Bluetooth enabled devices.
Silicon Labs is the industry leader in mesh networking. With Zigbee, Thread, Bluetooth mesh and Multiprotocol solutions, Silicon Labs can help customers select the right mesh technology for their application. Come learn about the various mesh protocols and see how Silicon Labs hardware, software, tools and reference designs can get you to market faster.
Silicon Labs is showcasing a commercial-grade managed solution for connected product manufacturers. It is illustrated here with a Silicon Lab’s ZigBee SoC, a reference gateway for OEMs and a cloud-based Device Management Service. Go from concept to market-ready IoT solution faster than ever.
Silicon Labs experts will also be speaking on the following topics: