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Digital Signal Processor: How Gene Frantz Invented DSP technology?

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You might have used Texas Instrument’s products at one point or another. Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) is an American technology company headquartered in Dallas, Texas. 

It designs and manufactures semiconductors and various integrated circuits, which it sells to electronics designers and manufacturers globally. In this article, we will learn about the company’s well-known invention of Digital signal processors and DMD Chips

How Digital Signal Processors were invented? 

It was the 1970s.

Texas Instruments had been around for a couple of decades. For most of its history, the company was a conglomeration of defence, geological, chemical, computer, and electronics products. 

Around then came an invention, which was used in everything from cell phones to MP3 players. We are talking about Digital Signal Processor(DSP) chips which are programmable microprocessors that can instantly crunch vast quantities of numbers. 

During this time, very few believed that it was possible to implement real-time digital processing technology in an integrated circuit. The technology was new and relatively expensive and was mostly found in academia and military applications. 

The technology was so complex, the mathematical manipulation of an information signal to improve it — was taught almost exclusively at the PhD level and had been implemented only in expensive applications related to things like geophysical exploration and military use.

However, a group of engineers at Texas Instruments Inc. including Gene Frantz were building a chip featuring digital signal processing (DSP) technology in Houston, Texas away from the headquarters of Texas Instruments. 

The interesting part is, the resultant DSP technology which was called TMS5100, was developed to process speech in an educational toy, dubbed Speak & Spell, which became a successful educational consumer electronics product that was years ahead of its time. 

TMS5100 was TI’s first speech synthesis chip, and its usage in a toy brought about a paradigm shift.  

“People couldn’t believe that there was a toy that could do this kind of thing. It’s not that it was on the forefront of new algorithms. The algorithms had been around for a while. It was the notion that they would be implemented in an educational toy at a price point that consumers could afford that was for many of us in the research community a real paradigm shift.” 

– Alan Oppenheim, Professor of Engineering at MIT

Frantz and his colleagues eventually realized that the DSP they had designed as a speech synthesis chip was being used in ways they had never imagined. It could be used in modems, hard drives, and 3-D graphics too. 

Going beyond the Digital signal processor

Gene Frantz said, 

“The interesting thing was when people began to out-innovate us.”

Resultantly, TI changed its marketing approach for the TMS5100’s successor, the TMS3210, to reflect the broader range of uses.

Texas Instruments also realized they could not sell Digital signal processors as a standalone product without creating a developer environment and strong customer support as well as seeding the market with more engineers who understood DSP technology. 

During this time, several other organizations including Intel, AT&T, and NEC Corp brought programmable DSPs to market, but the subject was mostly taught only at the PhD level.

To solve that problem, TI identified a handful of U.S. universities with strong DSP curriculums and partnered with them. The company commissioned several professors to write textbooks about DSP. 

“If you only have Ph.D. graduates that know how to use the parts, you don’t have a big market.” – Gene Frantz

Outcomes of the TI innovation 

This approach reaped results and today, the success of DSP technology is beyond question. DSP is a requirement for modems of all types, multimedia technology, and digital wireless technologies like Wi-Fi, WiMAX, CDMA, WCDMA, and LTE.

As of today, the global market for Digital Signal processors is huge and is expected to reach $16 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 12%. Texas Instruments, given its continuous innovation and huge investment in the market, is a top player in Digital Signal processor technology.

Such stories are evidence that innovation plays a huge role in the success of any business. In fact, a lack of innovation has actually led to the company’s failures. For instance, Sears’s Bankruptcy, Polaroid’s failure, Motorola’s failure etc.

You can also achieve innovation success with an idea management tool.

Also read: Why innovation management is important for your business growth. 

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