Featured Problem Solver: Airtame | Cypress Semiconductor
Featured Problem Solver: Airtame
At Cypress, we are all about solving our customers’ problems with our state-of-the-art solutions. The Problem Solver series recognizes unique projects and products created by engineers, designers and makers who are advancing our industry with their disruptive technology. We discuss the problems they faced, the solutions they needed and how Cypress enabled them to bring their designs to life.
Airtame, a valued Cypress customer, recently launched their second-generation product, the Airtame 2. Airtame is changing the way we use screens, from schools to corporate offices. Their products are getting rid of the messy cables and making projecting to a screen an easy and seamless task. Check the video below to learn how they are using Cypress’ Wi-Fi chip to change the digital projecting game.
We sat down with Kendra Bannister, Airtame’s head of Hardware, to discuss how her team solved their design challenges while building the Airtame 2.
Can you provide some background on Airtame, including how the company was started and what your vision for the company is?
The company was incorporated back in 2013, where it grew from a fun invention of one of the founders that would enable him to move more freely around the room when playing video games. When one of the other founders, Jonas, saw the commercial potential of this idea and pitched it to Attila, the inventor — they decided to pull together a dream team to build this into a real product. They chose to fund it through Indiegogo, and the adventure began.
Since then, Airtame has been through a lot of ups and downs, struggling to maintain sales and meet campaign promises after the crowdfunding campaign ended. It was at that point in time that the actual user-driven and feedback-driven mindset of the company essentially became rooted in the culture. Listening to our customers and acting based on real feedback helped Airtame to get through the rough patches and bring the company to the point where we are approaching 100 employees. As important, more than 100,000 units of the first Airtame dongle have been sold and are out on the market.
Today, the company’s vision is to enable the world to “use screens better.”
My vision for Airtame is that we continue to grow a portfolio of digital and physical products that encourage us to interact in productive ways and take away the distractions of technology, cables, compatibility, etc. Implementing Airtame should result in a better office or classroom environment that encourages learning and collaboration.
Can you tell us more about the team that worked on the hardware and design of Airtame 2?
Airtame’s internal development team is made up of a relatively small group of designers, engineers and user experts. The hardware team at Airtame didn’t pull this off alone and discussed the design quite a bit with our marketing and customer success teams — especially in the early phases of the project when setting the specifications. This ensured that we were listening to our end users and the challenges that they have, and then incorporating that feedback into our product portfolio. Hardware also collaborated with our Firmware team, who worked their magic during the bring-up phases in the project, when the hardware really came to life as an Airtame product.
Airtame also teams with expert external partners, like the hardware development agency RTX, among others, so we have the full skill set required to push limits and innovate using new technologies in our hardware designs.
Airtame relies a lot on the expertise of not only our development partners, but also our distributors of electronics components, who help during the process of component selection and can recommend the latest and greatest — and provide technical support — based on the strategy and vision that we present to them.
Our custom metal and plastic part manufacturers share their knowledge and feedback with our team to realize our designs in mass production. We try as much as possible to get out on the production floor, to understand how things are made, the production processes and capabilities that our partners have. This makes us better designers and engineers and helps us to challenge each other in new product development.
Why did you decide to use Cypress Wi-Fi for Airtame 2?
In the fall of 2017 we were presented with the opportunity to use one of Cypress’ Wi-Fi chips that, until that time, had only been implemented in high-end automobiles. After meeting with Cypress and pitching the vision of Airtame, both parties could see the benefit in a collaboration that would make Airtame the first commercial customer to implement this chip in an onboard design.
The RF engineering expertise of our hardware development partner RTX helped to make this possible. A lot of other companies use pre-certified Wi-Fi modules, but this comes at a cost and presents less opportunity for customization and optimization of the RF design. RTX and Cypress partnered with Airtame on this product to really enhance the features of the chip that our users were looking for. The end result is a better, faster (higher bandwidth) and more reliable connection.
The first Airtame dongle hardware contained two separate, band-exclusive Wi-Fi chips and onboard antennas. Switching to the Cypress chip in Airtame 2 has allowed us to consolidate and simplify the design to one dual-band chip with Bluetooth functionality (which we didn’t have on our original product). In that sense, implementing this was a three-in-one solution that simplified the product.
What design challenges did Cypress’ Wi-Fi Solution help solve?
The Real Simultaneous Dual Band (RSDB) functionality of the Wi-Fi chip from Cypress was a game-changer for Airtame that really allowed us to make our solution complete. Our users can now utilize the Wi-Fi forwarding functionality (stream directly to the Airtame 2 without needing to access the company network) no matter which band the Airtame 2 is using to connect to the network. This was a limitation of previous generations of Wi-Fi in that they only connected in the crowded 2.4GHz band. Modern Wi-Fi uses the 5GHz band, which offers more channels and hence a clearer signal for popular applications like video streaming. With Airtame 1, if one device connected at 5GHz, all other devices were also forced to use that band, and older client devices limited to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi couldn’t connect at all. With the Airtame 2 feature Cypress’ RSDB Wi-Fi, our users can easily connect using either band simultaneously, and can also enjoy five times the bandwidth for much snappier performance.
The Wi-Fi chip also has more than five times the bandwidth than our first design Airtame 1, meaning that our users have a much faster and more reliable connection to our device. This has unlocked possibilities for streaming heavier content and videos — the benefits can especially be seen while using Wi-Fi forwarding.
What makes Airtame unique from its competitors?
We have some fierce competition in the B2B wireless tech sector, but none come close to beating our price point. Airtame is a powerful, scalable screen sharing solution for business and education, but without the enterprise-level price tag. No nonsense, and no hidden costs.
Airtame is extremely intuitive and easy to use once you have the device. But, when a customer might be in the research phase, it can be challenging for them to understand the pros and cons of the solution; what it can and cannot do.
That’s why we aim to be completely transparent in presenting our product features and stacking Airtame against the competition (you can see our comparison articles with 16 potential competitors here).
I think what sets Airtame apart is our competitive pricing for a B2B solution, tireless approach to good customer service, and our ability to quickly improve on and expand the opportunities of the Airtame solution — especially with the firmware and Airtame app.
We offer free and committed customer support with every purchase. Our contact response time averages at four-minutes during standard global working hours, meaning we are always ready and willing to roll up our sleeves and help a customer in need, so they can get the most out of their Airtame rollout.
Beyond our pricing and unrivaled support, we also take pride in owning all aspects of the product delivery and messaging and partnering with organizations like Cypress to deliver best-in-show product components.
What do you think is the future of the screen-mirroring and display looks like? How will it evolve over time?
We often call Airtame a “living product,” meaning that the solution changes over time to address customer feedback, expectations and available integrations. We will sharpen the technology to drive even more capable wireless screen-mirroring in the future but, ultimately, we want to evolve past that goal and focus on how you can use the same technology for digital signage opportunities.
We have lots of exciting new firmware updates coming up later in this year and into 2019. This should dramatically change the way Airtame can be integrated into all aspects of screen technology in the work or education space — not just for active presenting, but digital signage and all-round communication.
Any last remarks or notes you want to include in this blog?
This is just the beginning for Airtame 2. Be sure to follow the Airtame blog for more use cases and insights from the frontline of forward-thinking businesses and education institutions using Airtame.
A big thank you to Kim and the Airtame team for sitting down and chatting with us! If you have any questions or comments about these awesome problem-solvers, tweet us @CypressSemi!