The Inside Out of Sabers: Curtis Bennett Reflects on Future Lightsaber Tech
By Curtis Bennett
I came into the custom saber industry a few years back when Dave Benard and I started this little company called Electrum Sabercrafts. The goal was to become millionaires overnight. OK, not really. The goal was to build a saber that packed all the technology that we could think of into one saber. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors that can be put into one IC will double every two years. This is truly one of my favorite laws. Well it’s not really a “law” but rather an observation that has rung true for many years. What does this have to do with sabers? It has everything to do with sabers now!
As the custom saber industry strives to do more by being more accurate, sound better, be brighter and just feel more real, the struggle with packing all these electronics into a limited space is daunting. Ask Plecter, NEC [Naigon’s Electronic Creations] or the “open source” crew and they will all tell you that it’s not an easy task.
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Over the past few years we have seen our industry integrate technologies that make the saber experience far better. Far better may even be an understatement at this point. The days of trying to run sound, light and motion through an 8-bit processor are over. So much power can now be put into a small space that we can now easily implement 16- and 32-bit processors that can-do things we could not have thought of 4 years ago.
The new saber features that are now available are starting to give the feeling of a real saber. Smooth motion effects for sound were “invented” a while back but could not easily be integrated into the saber. The tech was just not there yet. On the flip side of that the motion detection chips like accelerometers and gyroscopes were not available in small packages either. Today these are easily available to make the user experience, the one we all want, the one we see on the screen each time we watch one of the movies, possible.
Motion chips are awesome. I know that sounds nerdy but they are. I believe that they are single most important piece of our sabers today. Without an accelerometer and gyroscope you having nothing more than LED stick. Ask yourself this question. When you fired up your first saber, what made the hair stand up on your neck more? The LED’s firing up or the sound of the saber hum. Don’t lie to yourself, it was the saber hum!
To get the next gen sound you need sound processing and lots of it. The original saber sound came from a microphone being waived in front of a speaker giving the saber effect we have all grown to love. The swooshing doppler sound that gets stuck in your head when you hear it. Well, creating that inside a inside a saber is not easy. The speed at which the processors need to run to do this is crazy. There is so much that goes on to make the sound creation possible that one small mistake and you have nothing but static.
In the creation of the Electrum Sabercrafts Diatum 3 Saber Core (D3) board, this was the longest process to get right. Without sound, again, you just have LED stick. Motion processing and sound are tightly wound together. They are an integral part of each other. You need both to get the effects that we are looking for.
To put this processing in perspective here is what I mean. When running a 22.05KHz “.wav” file you need to put out one sound byte every 45uS. Yes every 45 microseconds. Well that’s not that hard you think, but that’s just to put out one sound byte, before you put out the next sound byte you need to check the motion chip and set the LED’s , whether pixel or not. Well, that is still not too bad you think. Well, in the case of the Electrum Sabercrafts D3 board, we over-sample and add effects before we put out the sound byte. That means that each sound byte needs to be read from the SD card, checked to see what it is, checked to see if we are adding bass or mid or treble to it, then add it in.
But hang on, we also add ripping effects and reverb effects all of which are put on before the sound byte is sent to the speaker. Now that starts to get tight in the processor. Now I should be a little more honest. This does all not get done in the 45uS, we do read in 512 bytes at a time from the SD card and then add effects but everything still has to get done or you lose it all and you end up with an LED stick again.
So why all the hype? Customers are striving for reality. They want the closest experience to the movie. To be honest the LED side of sabers is easy and totally necessary, but without the motion chips and the processors we have now, we could not take sabers where they have begun to go. Yes there is lots of other cool stuff, like the Electrum Unity app that allows you to change all of your settings from your smart phone and pixel blades, each of which adds to the experience but I think we will see a lot more advancement in the sound side of the sabers in the near future. The smooth effect of sound is here to stay and will only get better with time. More effects, closer to reality.
Thankfully Moore’s law is on our side with this one. The faster processors get, the better sabers will be. So keep watching, or listening in this case to see what is coming down the pipe. Its has been a very fun ride so far, creating a saber experience that people enjoy. So for now, Happy Sabering.
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Curtis Bennett is the Product Director and Co-Founder of Electrum Sabercrafts, a Canada based custom saber company. Visit the Electrum Sabercrafts website for more info.
COVER IMAGE CREDIT: Curtis Bennett