Amazon's Echo Show speaker with a built-in screen

California-based chipmaker DSP Group today confirmed it’s partnered up with Amazon on a low-power Alexa chip that’s smaller than a 10-cent coin, which third-party vendors will be able to take advantage of to embed the smart assistant in their own portable accessories.

Highlights:

  • Amazon is working on a dedicated Alexa chip
  • It will require third-party vendors to use the chip
  • DSP Group has partnered up with Amazon on the project
  • Qualcomm, Intel and Cirrus Logic are also building the chip
  • It will help future Alexa devices further lessen reliance on power cords

As per Reuters, DSP’s HDClear 3-mic development kit for Alexa Voice Service features the advanced DBMD5 audio processor with HDClear voice enhancement processing technology.

Alexa on a chip

The development kit comes in form of a printed circuit board with an embedded DBMD5 audio processor, Raspberry Pi and a 3-microphone array. It includes the pre-process noise-reduction, beam-forming and acoustic echo cancellation algorithms for enhanced voice accuracy.

An image showing DSP's HDClear 3-mic development kit for Alexa Voice Service

It’s basically a low-power solution for developers who are eager to quickly prototype a range of Alexa-powered form factors—ranging from smart speakers and wearable devices to smart home devices and remote controls—without draining the battery.

“If you want to add voice as a user interface to such a device, you have to have a very, very low power consumption,” CEO Ofer Elyakim told Reuters in an interview.

Amazon is also working with a number of industry heavy-weights, including the likes of Intel, Qualcomm and Cirrus Logic, on these chips that will put Alexa inside a gadget.

Key features

DSP’s development kit provides the following benefits:

  • High-performance voice enhancement capabilities—Sophisticated voice algorithms including acoustic echo cancellation, noise reduction, beam-forming and far-field enhancement, significantly improving the user experience and accuracy, particularly in high-noise environments. Without these algorithms, devices with closely coupled speakers and microphones would be inadequate for voice functions.
  • Barge-in—Enables detection of voice commands when audio, including music, is played by the device.
  • Seamless operation with Amazon AVS—Supports Amazon Alexa wake word and fully integrates with AVS SDK to ensure seamless operation with AVS.
  • Advanced audio SoC—Embedded programmable dual-core DSP supports digital and analog microphones and incorporates various application processor interfaces such as SPI, I2C, UART and SLIMbus.
  • Low power consumption—Power-optimized implementation for always-on IoT devices allows power-hungry application processors to remain in sleep mode during voice sensing, and also enables battery-powered devices to access Alexa. Power consumption well below 1mA for Alexa wake-word detection is supported.
  • Far-field enhancement—High performance using 3 mics, allowing flexibility for up to 360-degree voice coverage.
    Local detection of Alexa—Enables low-power detection and integration in IoT devices with small amounts of memory for wake-word detection.
  • Fast time to market—Complete suite of host processor/communications processor/MCU software drivers enables rapid development.
  • Scalable—Software configuration supports various types of smart speakers, digital assistants, wearable devices, smart home devices, remote controls, IoT devices and more, accommodating different requirements for microphones, speakers, audio flow toward the speaker(s), audio flow from the microphones, and acoustic designs.

Future Echo devices that will incorporate these features by embedding a dedicated, low-power Alexa chip will undoubtedly put more pressure on Apple’s HomePod speaker.

Strategic move

The announcement is of strategic significance because third-party vendors can now reduce development costs and shorten time to market. Due to its low power requirements and tiny footprint, the chip will play a key role in the evolution of Alexa devices.

Juniper Research predicts that sales of voice assistant devices in the United States will grow from 450 million units in 2017 to 870 million devices in 2022.

On a related note, Amazon today unveiled an all-new Fire HD 10 Kids Edition, its “largest and fastest kids tablet,” and unveiled a brand new Show Mode for Alexa on the Fire tablets alongside the new Show Mode charging dock for the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets.