Alexa Chip Takes Aim At The Internet Of Things

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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DSP’s ultra-low-power Alexa-enabled voice processor aims to put Amazon’s assistant into battery-powered gadgets

California-based chip maker DSP has teamed up with Amazon to put the Alexa voice assistant on ultra-low-power networked devices, in the technology’s latest move beyond the smart speaker.

DSP said its DBMD5 audio/voice processing chip is aimed at enabling hardware makers to build Alexa capabilities into battery-powered devices such as smart speakers, wearable gadgets, smart home devices and remote controls.

To date most Alexa gadgets have relied on a mains power connection, due to the power drain required by always-on speakers and an internet connection.

DSP, whose background is in supplying chips for cordless telephones – which still made up half of the $28.1 million (£21.5m) revenues in its most recent quarter – said the chip can enable devices that consume “well below” 1mA while listening for Alexa’s trigger word.

An Alexa-powered device is seen in an Amazon TV ad. Credit: AmazonVoice-activated devices

It does so by enabling power-hungry application processors to remain in sleep mode until they’re needed, then quickly awake to handle voice processing chores.

The chip can detect voice commands while audio, including music, is playing, and includes algorithms for features such as acoustic echo cancellation, noise reduction, beamforming and far-field enhancement.

Those features mean that aside from processing voice commands, the chip can facilitate voice calls.

DSP is making available a development kit that includes the DBMD5 chip along with a Raspberry Pi micro-computer and a three-microphone array, as well as voice-accuracy algorithms.

Developers can get started with the kit by simply plugging it into power and attaching a speaker, DSP said.

The firm said its chips are more suitable for battery-powered “Internet of Things” devices than existing Alexa-enabled chips from the likes of Intel, Qualcomm and Cirrus Logic.

‘Alexa everywhere’

Amazon is facing robust competition in from the voice assistants of Apple, Google, Samsung, IBM and others, and the market is expected to grow from 450 million units in 2017 to 870 million in 2022, according to Juniper Research.

DSP chief executive Ofer Elyakim said the migration toward voice interfaces marks a “sea-change” in interaction with electronic devices.

“Working with Amazon is a vital step forward in our steady expansion into voice user interface technologies,” he said.

Alexa Voice Service director Priya Abani said the company sees a future where customers can “interact with Alexa everywhere and from any device”.

IHS Markit analyst Paul Erickson said in a research note the firm sees increasing innovation on its way in the voice assistant market.

“This is the first year we’re going to see real advances with the assistants because of competition in the marketplace,” he said.

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