Vesper Team Takes Top Honors At Sensors Expo

Sensors Insights by Mat Dirjish

Competition is quite brisk when it comes to the Sensors Award Program, particularly when it involves engineering teams. Not only is the award an indication of the dedication, ingenuity and creative abilities of the team as a whole, but also as individuals and it’s a reflection on the high quality of the company they work for.

At this year’s Sensors Expo West in San Jose, CA, the Engineering Excellence Award for best engineering team went to a six-designer crew at Vesper. The fruit of their labors, that which brought them to receiving the award, is a unique MEMS microphone, the VM1010.


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The Team

The Vesper team is comprised of six highly-talented members. They are CTO and Vesper co-founder Robert Littrell, director of ASIC technology Ron Gagnon, senior MEMS design engineer Yu Hui, senior MEMS design engineer Wang-Kyung Sung, senior product engineer Adam Whittemore, and test/characterization engineer Shin Nagpal. Each has a string of credentials and accomplishments associated with them at least a mile long.

CTO and Vesper co-founder Robert Littrell has a PhD in mechanical engineering and a MS in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan plus a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Dayton. Holding a MS degree in electrical engineering from Northeastern University, director of ASIC technology Ron Gagnon has worn several hats at Vesper. From November 2014 to Feb 2016 Ron was a senior ASIC designer, from March 2016 to February 2017 he held the position of IC design manager, and in February 2017 he assumed his present position as director of ASIC technology.

From left to right and top row to bottom row, the Vesper team is Robert Littrell, Ron Gagnon, Yu Hui, Wang-Kyung Sung, Adam Whittemore, and Shin Nagpal.
From left to right and top row to bottom row, the Vesper team is Robert Littrell, Ron Gagnon, Yu Hui,
Wang-Kyung Sung, Adam Whittemore, and Shin Nagpal.

Senior MEMS design engineer Yu Hui started as an intern at Vesper in January 2015 and rose to the position of senior MEMS design engineer shortly after in May 2015. He holds a PhD in MEMS technology from Northeastern University.

Senior MEMS design engineer Wang-Kyung Sung holds a PhD with a focus on design, modeling, fabrication, and characterization of MEMS gyroscopes from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Senior product engineer Adam Whittemore found Vesper MEMS after stints with Bose, Analog Devices, and TDK. He has a MS in electrical engineering from the University of Florida.

With a background of experience that includes positions with General Electric (GE), Allegro Microsystems, and Qualtre Inc., test and characterization engineer Shin Nagpal has his current focus on piezoelectric MEMS microphones. Shin holds a BS and MS in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Obviously, between the six there’s enough brain power to launch a round trip to Venus, Mars, and Mercury ten times over. However, similar levels of education and accomplishments do not always make for fruitful coalitions. Fortunately, the opposite is true here. The Vesper team worked as a team to develop the unique VM1010 MEMS microphone.


The VM1010

Want to hear a not-so-well-kept industry secret? Almost all of the tech products in use today are battery powered and the majority of those devices employ wireless connectivity. Not-so-well-kept industry secret number two, almost all tech products today are designed to use the lowest amount of power possible. It’s part of the holy trinity of tech: smaller, faster, and lower power.

In the old days of recording and broadcasting, the microphone was the interface between the tape recorder or broadcast console and the human voice and other sound-producing instruments. Most did not require a separate power supply, the electret condenser variety being the exception, and power consumption from the microphone end was not even a consideration.

Since the time microphones were shrunk down to fit in portable tape recorders, they’ve been consistently refined to be more sensitive and capable of capturing sound accurately and clearly. And as their deployment in cell and smartphones escalated, refinements also ensued.

Microphones in today’s smartphones still maintain the same function of picking up sound, but they do so for more sophisticated functions that require high-quality sound. In addition to basic telephone calls, the microphone records sound for speech, music, and video. Recently, voice recognition and voice activation functionalities are entering smartphones and other devices. To maintain quality and accuracy, microphones are integrating sophisticated technologies, like MEMS that require dc power, hence making greater demands on the battery. Enter the Vesper VM1010

Vesper’s VM1010 emerged as the industry’s first wake-on sound piezoelectric MEMS microphone that enables voice activation in a wide range of battery-powered devices. It is also the first such device that uses sound energy to wake the host system up from a full power-down mode. According to Vesper, when fully powered-off, batteries in smartphones and smart speakers dissipate about 50 µA, more current than the VM1010 needs. This means that there is no difference in battery-life for a system using a VM1010 in listening mode and a fully powered-down system.

The VM1010 measures 3.76 mm x 2.65 mm x 0.96 mm.
The VM1010 measures 3.76 mm x 2.65 mm x 0.96 mm.

A key feature is a programmable loudness threshold that allows voice activation to be customized for the desired distance and level of background noise. When the environment is quiet, the system can enter the low-power “wake-on-sound” mode and bring battery drain to a halt.

The VM1010 comes in a 3.76 mm x 2.65 mm x 0.96 mm package and specifies a current consumption of 6 µA in “wake-on-sound” mode and 90 µA in normal mode. Other reported features, in a nutshell, include the industry’s lowest-power wake-up, a programmable voice zone, single-ended analog output, and dust-proof piezoelectric MEMS construction.

Notable VM1010 features.
Notable VM1010 features.

The Engineering Excellence award was announced at Sensors Expo in San Jose, CA on June 7, 2017 at the expo kickoff party. Unfortunately, the team was unable to attend, but hopefully this brief introduction and profile has given them some of the praise they richly deserve. For more information, you can request a VM1010 datasheet by CLICKING HERE. To learn more about Vesper and its innovations, CLICK HERE. ~MD


About the Author

Mat Dirjish is the Executive Editor of Sensors magazine. Before coming on board, he covered the test and measurement and embedded systems market for Electronic Products Magazine, after which he spent thirteen years covering the electronic components market for EE Product News and Electronic Design magazines. He also has an extensive background in high-end audio/video design, modification, servicing, and installation.

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