Start-up to launch innovative GPS chip, targets digital camera market

Start-up to launch innovative GPS chip, targets digital camera market
Air Semiconductor, a fabless GPS semiconductor company formed in May 2006, has announced today its first product, Airwave1, that deliver low power continuous GPS tracking in order to solve the time to first fix issue for non-connected consumer electronics devices. Air Semiconductor claims its Airwave-1 chip consumes “only 1% of power required by current GPS solutions”.

Airwave-1 is particularly dedicated to the digital camera market where time to first fix is critical because consumers are not willing to wait minutes to take a picture. While the cell phone market has pretty much solved this problem with assisted GPS solutions, using the network to accelerate the first fix, non-connected consumer electronics devices is still facing this issue.

To achieve such a low level of power consumption (1mA while tracking), the technology developed by Air Semiconductor is trading up accuracy against power consumption. Once embedded into a digital camera the Airwave-1 chip will keep tracking of GPS satellites but not spending power on finding its accurate position. However, when the user will take a picture the technology will immediately shift into “accuracy mode” to get a precise position for the instant of the picture. This technology will also solve the problem of taking a picture inside a building. Its “always on” mode will record your last position when you enter the building.

A demand for GPS-enabled cameras?
According to Stephen Graham, co-founder and CEO of Air Semiconductor: “there is a real demand for picture geotagging. First, consumers are increasingly tagging picture manually. There are 30 million
geo-tagged photos on Flickr and 2.5 million added per month! Second, these online services (Flickr, google Earth,etc) are pushing geotagging because it brings more features to their users. “The third reason is more subtle”, he said; “this is the threat of camera-phones supremacy for digital camera manufacturers. So far camera-phones have pretty much offered downgraded camera experiences, but moving forward, with GPS and A-GPS they will have the opportunity to bring location to pictures and finally offer a better experience, a real threat recognized by camera manufacturers”.

Air Semiconductor is initially focusing on the digital camera market because it is the most obvious for its technology. However, it also intends to target other battery powered consumer electronics devices that are not connected. “The Airwave-1 approach to GPS is truly novel and addresses a real market need," said Will Strauss, President and Principal Analyst at the market research firm Forward Concepts. "Air Semiconductor's very-low-power technology allows them to address portable markets that have been impractical for GPS because of battery drain and first-fix timing concerns associated with current chip products.”

Ultimately, Air Semiconductor thinks its “always on” GPS technology can be very useful to forthcoming applications on cell phones because the balance between accuracy and power can be finely triggered by software algorithms. For Stephen Graham “there is a commercial opportunity in mobile handsets for proactive location-dependent services, where the users’ location triggers a service such as an alarm, a reminder or a promotional message”.

Serie A round of funding

Air Semiconductor has raised a serie A round of funding with Pond Venture Partners. While Stephen Graham was not willing to disclose the amount it raised during this first round, he recognized to GPS Business News: “We have been financed enough to go easily through 2008”. The company has a current staff of 12 people and expects to hire eight additional engineers by the end of this year and to have Airwave-1 first engineering samples ready this summer.

“Pond has invested in Air as we see a combination of groundbreaking, next generation technology, a large potential market and a superb team,” commented Mike Gera, a General Partner at Pond Venture Partners. But the success of Air Semiconductor will highly depend of the willingness of camera manufacturers to include GPS in their products. During a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2006, Kodak’s CEO Antonio Perez was already talking about the interest of geotagging to sort pictures in the “digital shoebox”: two years later we are still waiting to see anything coming out of the box.

Thursday, January 24th 2008

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