Synaptics showcases cutting-edge innovations in AI for PCs and IoT edge devices

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AI PCs were undoubtedly the hottest topic at Computex 2024. Various PC manufacturers showcased related solutions, and major processor players like AMD, Intel, and Arm emphasized the importance of AI PC applications.

As one of the earliest companies to implement AI functions on PCs, Synaptics brought even more advanced solutions with Edge AI technologies to the event this year. Their latest innovations build upon its three technology pillars: sensing, processing, and connecting.

"At the demos you saw, even for things like a PC touchpad, there are techniques such as accidental contact mitigation (ACM), which uses AI algorithms," said Satish Ganesan, Synaptics' SVP & GM of Intelligent Sensing Division and Chief Strategy Officer. "Our goal is to infuse more and more AI features into PCs, smartphones, and automotive at the sensing edge where the user interacts with the device."

"The other side is our processing solutions with our newly announced Astra family of processors, where we are uniquely positioned. We are building processors that go after markets wherever computer vision, voice, or any form of edge AI is required, like in smart home, industrial automation, and so on," he added. "Some of the same elements are then used in the PC space where you saw user presence detection techniques which implements vision AI algorithms to enhance overall user experience."

In a demo at Computex 2024, Synaptics showed how the intelligent sensing solution with its new Edge AI chip enhances the PC user's experience. The demo focused on practical, everyday use cases in office environments. Features include Human Presence Detection (HPD), head pose tracking, and gesture control, which allow for automatic adjustments such as waking up the computer, locking it, and managing battery and privacy settings.

For instance, users can mute their microphone or switch focus between monitors effortlessly using gestures. Integration of vision AI algorithms and PC cameras provides seamless interaction, ensures user privacy and security, saves power, and improves overall productivity by recognizing user identity and preferences, thus illustrating the real-world benefits of AI-enhanced PCs beyond just technological advancements.

Ganesan emphasized that many talks about AI PCs from major companies at Computex 2024 focused on the computational power of processors, but "We're not going to compete with those main processors, we're not doing LLM processing or things like that, our value proposition will be in other areas, where we provide chipsets in the touchpad, fingerprint and so on. Of course, we're doing it on Astra for other markets as the main processor."

Synaptics Astra was launched at Embedded World with the debut of the SL-Series, a new family of edge AI processors described as "AI-native SoCs" capable of running the Linux and Android OS. The series uses Arm Cortex-A cores, scales from 2 to 8 TOPS performance, and targets multi-modal consumer, enterprise, and industrial IoT workloads. The upcoming SR-Series MCUs with tiered inferencing were also demonstrated. Together with the SL-Series, the MCUs make context-aware computing a reality across the smart home, the factory floor, and at work.

According to Synaptics, the SL-Series and SR-Series of Astra SoCs deliver a unified experience combining standards-based open software frameworks, rapid prototyping kits, full-featured AI/ML toolkits, and Synaptics' Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity solutions. The SL-Series is also supported by the Astra Machina Foundation Series development kit, which allows easy and rapid prototyping.

Beyond hardware, Synaptics' solutions emphasize optimizing AI algorithms to operate efficiently at the edge, "So we can work with a smaller memory footprint and lower speed processors," Ganesan mentioned. "Right now, the take rate of AI PCs is still pretty small, but I think it is going to be pretty explosive. We focused on AI early, and the biggest thing in AI is about basically the software and the framework." Synaptics' AI software accepts commonly used input frameworks such as TensorFlow, TFLite, TLFM, ONNX, CAFFE, and PyTorch.

For clients with varying levels of AI expertise, the company can provide comprehensive support, including the compiler, tools, and resources like predefined models and libraries for different use cases, such as vision and audio. "That is where we will differentiate in the market," said Ganesan. "Most companies only focus on hardware or software; we are the only ones who deliver an end-to-end solution. That would help our customers bring products to market faster because they don't need to learn from scratch. we have done all the learning for them."

Advances in Docking, Enterprise Headsets, and Fingerprint Sensors

Beyond the intelligent sensing technology applications for PCs' HPD functions mentioned above, Synaptics also showcased a range of other solutions at Computex 2024, including Docking Station Solutions supporting the latest DisplayPort (DP) 2.0 standard and with the ability to add virtual displays and enhanced user guides for troubleshooting. Low-latency wireless video was also shown, along with audio solutions that enable ultra-low-power Enterprise Headsets that support simultaneous audio streaming with BT Classic, BLE, DECT, and USB-connected devices.

Regarding the touchpad and fingerprint solutions for PCs, the fingerprint market is shifting away from traditional palm rest placement towards integration on the keyboard. This change offers a more streamlined and reliable integration.

The touchpad sector is witnessing a significant increase in size to match larger screens, emphasizing the importance of advanced palm rejection technology. Synaptics AI-based algorithm can improve palm rejection, addressing common complaints about accidental cursor movements during typing. The algorithm enhances accuracy when distinguishing between fingers and palms, especially at the touchpad edges.

Additionally, the integration of Zoom and Teams functions directly into the touchpad was introduced. This allows users to control mute and video settings without moving the cursor, thus simplifying the user experience during online meetings.

This customization provides flexibility based on OEM preferences. And, the haptic force touchpad is poised to become dominant in flagship PCs, offering a larger touch area and integrating touch and force using a single chip. This technology allows clicks anywhere on the pad and provides a consistent tactile response, enhancing user experience. The development of piezo technology, combining thin piezo disks with touch sensors, promises even more precise and localized haptic feedback, potentially simulating different textures and offering advanced notification patterns.

Taiwan's Pivotal Role

Due to the boom in AI PCs, this year's Computex gathered numerous top executives from major companies and garnered worldwide attention. Ganesan also acknowledged Taiwan's pivotal role in the global PC market and ecosystem, "Taiwan is a big center for PCs, almost all the PC makers and ODMs are here. We're going to see a lot of developments here focused on AI PCs and things like that. It plays a very important role in the hardware ecosystem that supplies worldwide. That is why Taiwan is one of Synaptics' biggest R&D centers."

Although the local team is already significant, as the market for AI PCs and other Edge AI applications grows, Ganesan did not rule out the possibility of further expansion, with more investment and the recruitment of more local talent. Synaptics plans to enhance its support and infrastructure in Taiwan, leveraging the country's central role in both implementation and innovation.

In a demo at Computex 2024, Synaptics showed how the intelligent sensing solution with its new Edge AI chip enhances the PC user's experience

In a demo at Computex 2024, Synaptics showed how the intelligent sensing solution with its new Edge AI chip enhances the PC user's experience.