February 1, 2017
The hands-free personal assistant that you can wake on voice and talk to naturally has significantly gained popularity the last couple of years. This kind of technology made its debut not all that long ago as a feature of Motorola’s MotoX, a smartphone that had always-listening Moto Voice technology powered by Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree technology. Since then, the always-listening digital assistant quickly spread across mobile phones and PCs from several different brands, making phrases like, “Hey Siri,” “Okay Google,” and, “Hey Cortana,” commonplace.
Then, out of nowhere, Amazon successfully tried its hand at the personal assistant with the Echo, sporting a true natural language voice interface and Alexa cloud-based AI. It was initially marketed for music, but quickly expanded domain coverage to include weather, Q&A, recipes, and the ability to answer common questions. On top of that, Amazon also opened its platform up to third-party developers, allowing them to proliferate the skill sets available on the Alexa platform, with now more than 10,000 skills accessible to users. These skills allow Amazon’s Echo, Tap, and Dot, as well as the several new third-party Alexa-equipped products like Nucleus and Triby, to be used to access and control various IoT functions, from reading heart rates on Fitbits to ordering pizzas and controlling lights within the home.
Until recently, always-listening, hands-free assistants required a certain minimum power capability, restricting form factors to table top speakers or appliance devices that had to either be plugged in to an outlet or have a large battery. Also, Amazon’s Echo, Tap, and Dot all required a Wi-Fi connection for communicating with the Alexa AI engine to make use of its available skills. Unfortunately, this meant you were restricted to using Alexa within your home or Wif-Fi network. If you wanted to go on a run, the only way to ask Alexa for your step count or heart rate was to wait until you got back home.
This is changing now with technology like Sensory’s VoiceGenie, an always-listening embedded speech recognizer for wearables and hearables that runs in a low power mode on a Qualcomm/CSR Bluetooth chip. The solution takes a session border controller (SBC) music decoder and intertwines it with a speech recognition system so that while music is playing and the decoder is in-use, VoiceGenie is on and actively listening, allowing the Bluetooth device to listen for two keywords:
To give an example of how this works, a Bluetooth headset’s volume, pairing process, battery strength, or connection status can only be controlled or monitored through the device itself, so VoiceGenie handles those controls with no touching required. VoiceGenie can also read the incoming caller’s name and ask the user if they want to answer or ignore. Additionally, VoiceGenie can call up the phone’s assistant like Google Assistant, Siri, or Cortana, to ask by voice for a call to be made or a song to be played. By saying, “Alexa,” the user can access the Alexa service directly from their Bluetooth headsets while out and about, using their smartphone as the connection to the Alexa cloud.
Today’s consumer wants a personalized assistant that knows them, is convenient to use, keeps their secrets safe, and helps them in their daily lives. This help can be accessing information, getting answers to questions or intelligently controlling your home environment. It’s very difficult to accomplish this for privacy and power reasons solely using cloud-based AI technology. There needs to be embedded intelligence on devices, and it needs to run at low power. A low-power embedded voice assistant that adds an intelligent voice interface to portable and wearable devices, while also adding Alexa functionality to them, can address those needs.
January 5, 2017
Virtual handsfree assistants that you can talk to and that talk back have rapidly gained popularity. First, they arrived in mobile phones with Motorola’s MotoX that had an ‘always listening’ Moto Voice powered by Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree technology. The approach quickly spread across mobile phones and PCs to include Hey Siri, OK Google, and Hey Cortana.
Then Amazon took things to a whole new level with the Echo using Alexa. A true voice interface emerged, initially for music but quickly expanding domain coverage to include weather, Q&A, recipes, and the most common queries. On top of that, Amazon took a unique approach by enabling 3rd parties to develop “skills” that now number over 6000! These skills allow Amazon’s Echo line (with Tap, Dot) and 3rd Party Alexa equipped products (like Nucleus and Triby) to be used to control various functions, from reading heartrates on Fitbits to ordering Pizzas and controlling lights.
Until recently, handsfree assistants required a certain minimum power capability to really be always on and listening. Additionally, the hearable market segment including fitness headsets, hearing aids, stereo headsets and other Bluetooth devices needed to use touch control because of their power limitations. Also, Amazons Alexa had required WIFI communications so you could sit on your couch talking to your Echo and query Fitbit information, but you couldn’t go out on a run and ask Alexa what your heartrate was.
All this is changing now with Sensory’s VoiceGenie!
The VoiceGenie runs an embedded recognizer in a low power mode. Initially this is on a Qualcomm/CSR Bluetooth chip, but could be expanded to other platforms. Sensory has taken an SBC music decoder and intertwined a speech recognition system, so that the Bluetooth device can recognize speech while music is playing.
The VoiceGenie is on and listening for 2 keywords:
For example, a Bluetooth headset’s volume, pairing, battery strength, or connection status can only be controlled by the device itself, so VoiceGenie handles those controls without touching required. VoiceGenie can also read incoming callers’ names and ask the user if they want to answer or ignore. VoiceGenie can call up the phone’s assistant, like Google Assistant or Siri or Cortana, to ask by voice for a call to be made or a song to be played.
Some of the important facts behind the new VoiceGenie include:
This third point is perhaps the least understood, yet the most important. People want a personalized assistant that knows them, keeps their secrets safe, and helps them in their daily lives. This help can be accessing information or controlling your environment. It’s very difficult to accomplish this for privacy and power reasons in a cloud powered environment. There needs to be embedded intelligence. It needs to be low power. VoiceGenie is that low powered voice assistant.
October 14, 2016
I watched Sundar and Rick and the team at Google announce all the great new products from Google. I’ve read a few reviews and comparisons with Alexa/Assistant and Echo/Home, but it struck me that there’s quite an overlap in the reports I’m reading and some of the more interesting things aren’t being discussed. Here are a few of them, roughly in increasing order of importance:
October 6, 2016
It’s always nice when Sensory wins an award. 2016 has been a special year for Sensory because we won more awards than any other year in our 23 year history!!
Check it out:
Sensory Earns Multiple Coveted Awards in 2016
Sensory Inc., a Silicon Valley company that pioneered the hands-free voice wakeup word approach, today, announced it has won over half a dozen awards in 2016 across its product-line, including awards for products, technologies, and people, covering deep learning, biometric authentication and voice recognition.
The awards presented to Sensory include the following:
CTIA Super Mobility 2016™, the largest wireless event in America, announced more than 70 finalists for its 10th annual CTIA Emerging Technology (E-Tech) Awards. Sensory was nominated in the category of Mobile Security and Privacy for its TrulySecure™ technology, along with Nokia, Samsung, SAP, and others. Sensory was presented with the First Place award for the category in a ceremony on September 2016 at the CTIA Las Vegas event.
Speech Technology magazine, the leading provider of speech technology news and analysis, had its 10th annual Speech Industry Awards to recognize the creativity and notable achievements of key influencers (Luminaries), major innovators (Star Performers), and impressive deployments (Implementation Awards). The editors of Speech Technology magazine selected 2016 award winners based on their industry contributions during the past 12 months. Sensory’s CEO, Todd Mozer, was awarded with a Luminary Award, making it his second time winning the prestigious award. Sensory as a company was awarded the Star Performer award along with IBM, Amazon and others.
Two well-known industry analyst firms issued reports highlighting Sensory’s industry contributions for its TrulyHandsfree product and customer leadership, offering awards for innovations, customer deployment, and strategic leadership.
“Sensory has an incredibly talented team of speech recognition and biometrics experts dedicated to advancing the state-of-the-art of each respective field. We are pleased that our TrulyHandsfree, TrulySecure and TrulyNatural product lines are being recognized in so many categories, across the various industries in which we do business,” said Todd Mozer, CEO of Sensory. “I am also thrilled that Sensory’s research and innovations in the deep learning space has been noticed, generating our company prestigious accolades and management recognition.”
September 9, 2016
We are pleased to announce that Sensory’s TrulySecure technology has earned first place in this year’s CTIA E-Tech Awards. We believe that this recognition serves as a testament to Sensory’s devotion to developing the best embedded speech recognition and biometric security technologies available.
For those of you unfamiliar with TrulySecure – TrulySecure is the result of more than 20 years of Sensory’s industry leading and award-winning experience in the biometric space. The TrulySecure SDK allows application developers concerned about both security and convenience to quickly and easily deploy a multimodal voice and vision authentication solution for mobile phones, tablets, and PCs. TrulySecure is highly secure, environment robust, and user friendly – offering better protection and greater convenience than passwords, PINs, fingerprint readers and other biometric scanners. TrulySecure offers the industry’s best accuracy at recognizing the right user, while keeping unauthorized users out. Sensory’s advanced deep learning neural networks are fine tuned to provide verified users with instant access to protected apps and services, without the all too common false rejections of the right user associated with other biometric authentication methods. TrulySecure features a quick and easy enrollment process – capturing voice and face simultaneously in a few seconds. Authentication is on-device and almost instantaneous.
TrulySecure provides maximum security against unauthorized attempts by mobile identity thieves from breaking into a protected mobile device, while ensuring the most accurate verification rates for the actual user. Compared to published data by Apple, the iPhone’s thumbprint reader offers about in 1:50K chance of a false accept of the wrong user, and the probability of the wrong user getting into the device gets higher when the user enrolls more than one finger. With TrulySecure, face and voice biometrics individually offer a baseline 1:50k false accept rate, but can each be made more secure depending on the security needs of the developer. When both face and voice biometrics are required for user authentication, TrulySecure is virtually impenetrable by anybody but the actual user. As a baseline, TrulySecure’s face+voice authentication offers a baseline of 1:100k False Accept Rate, but can be dialed in to offer as much as a 1:1Million False Accept Rate depending on security needs.
TrulySecure is robust to environmental challenges such as low light or high noise – it works in real-life situations that render lesser offerings useless. The proprietary speaker verification, face recognition, and biometric fusion algorithms leverage Sensory’s deep strength in speech processing, computer vision, and machine learning to continually make the user experience faster, more accurate, and more secure. The more the user uses TrulySecure, the more secure it gets.
TrulySecure offers ease-of-mind specifications: no special hardware is required – the solution uses standard microphones and cameras universally installed on today’s phones, tablets and PCs. All processing and encryption is done on-device, so personal data remains secure – no personally identifiable data is sent to the cloud. TrulySecure was also the first biometric fusion technology to be FIDO UAF Certified.
While we are truly honored to be the recipient of this prestigious award, we won’t rest on our laurels. Our engineers are already working on the next generation of TrulySecure, further improving accuracy and security, as well as refining the already excellent user experience.
Guest blog by Michael Farino
August 22, 2016
Sensory is proud to announce that it has been awarded with two 2016 Speech Tech Magazine Awards. With some stiff competition in the speech industry, Sensory continues to excel in offering the industry’s most advanced embedded speech recognition and speech-based security solutions for today’s voice-enabled consumer electronics movement.
The 2016 Speech Technology Awards include:
Speech Luminary Award – Awarded to Sensory’s CEO, Todd Mozer
“What really impresses me about Todd is his long commitment to speech technology, and specifically, his focus on embedded and small-footprint speech recognition,” says Deborah Dahl, principal at Conversational Technologies and chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Multimodal Interactions Working Group. “He focuses on what he does best and excels at that.”
Star Performers Award – Awarded to Sensory for its contributions in enabling voice-enabled IoT products via embedded technologies
“Sensory has always been in the forefront of embedded speech recognition, with its TrulyHandsfree product, a fast, accurate, and small-footprint speech recognition system. Its newer product, TrulyNatural, is ground- breaking because it supports large vocabulary speech recognition and natural language understanding on embedded devices, removing the dependence on the cloud,” said Deborah Dahl, principal at Conversational Technologies and chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Multimodal Interactions Working Group. “While cloud-based recognition is the right solution for many applications, if the application must work regardless of connectivity, embedded technology is required. The availability of TrulyNatural embedded natural language understanding should make many new types of applications possible.”
– Guest Blog by Michael Farino
July 19, 2016
Cybersecurity was an important topic at Mobile World Congress Shanghai. I was invited to join a panel with cybersecurity experts from Intel, Huawei, NEC, Nokia, and Ericsson with commentary by a McKinsey analyst. Peter O’Neil, a biometrics industry expert and CEO of FindBiometrics, led the panel. Interestingly, Peter was given a late invitation to lead a Keynote discussion on biometrics (in addition to our pane) when the GSMA decided to put more emphasis on biometrics in response to the broad interest in improving cybersecurity.
I’m about to tell you the painful irony in all this. But first, to get into China I needed a Chinese business visa, and a business visa requires an invitation from a Chinese organization. I was offered an invitation from the GSMA and they had a very effective system for filling out an online form and submitting it to them, all in the process of registering as a speaker. This quickly produced a formal invitation that I could use for my VISA application.
On July 7th I received an email that began as follows:
Dear Mobile World Congress Shanghai Attendee:
The GSMA today confirmed that an individual or individuals made unauthorized access to a database system managed by a third-party supplier for Mobile World Congress Shanghai. The system has now been secured and the supplier has provided the GSMA access to its system to conduct a thorough analysis of the incident.
The system that was accessed contained information on Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2016 attendees, including name, company, mobile number, email address and password used for registration and, for those attendees that requested a visa invitation letter from the GSMA, their passport details.
It was really that last line about passport details that upset me. The other information on me is fairly easy to find, but my passport details? I did some Internet searching and called the US Department of State, and I concluded that lost or stolen passports need to be reported immediately, but stolen information from them is only optional to report. So maybe it’s not a big deal. I’m still not sure.
But what if my biometric data had been used as online ID and had been compromised?
Biometrics offers a more convenient and more secure solution than passwords. However as a result of their uniqueness and intrinsic nature to an individual, biometrics are much more sensitive and (except for voice passwords) are not easy to change. For example, we only have two eyes, so if one’s retinal scan (or periocular region, or iris, etc.) is compromised, then we only get one more try. With face we only have one, with fingers 10, etc. This difficulty in changing the biometric leads to a need for “liveness testing” to make sure it isn’t a stolen biometric without a real person behind it. But advances in spoofing approaches (rubber fingers, etc.) force liveness tests to impede the natural convenience of biometrics with unnatural behaviors following random requests.
There’s no real easy solution, but placing the biometric on device is certainly a step in the right direction by keeping it out of the cloud or accessible servers and in a less accessible zone, such as a trusted execution environment (TEE) within a chip on the device the user has (e.g. smart phone).
The FIDO Alliance (Fast ID Online) Alliance, has been gaining much momentum. FIDO has laid out standards for a user authentication framework (UAF) for passwordless security that, as part of the FIDO spec, requires the biometric to be stored on-device. On-device authentication and FIDO works well for verifying a person (confirming one from one). Performing identification (one out of many) can be done on device for small numbers, like differentiating between family members, but it becomes impractical for things like passport control without a passport where a camera looks at you and just knows who you are out of billions of people.
Security itself comes from something we have (like a passport), something we know (like a PIN/password or a key questions answer), and something we are (the biometric in us).
So, I think passports will be around for a while, but maybe they will become a software app on my mobile phone that provides the have, are, and know. I’d like my Chinese visa there too!
June 22, 2016
I’ve written a series of blogs about consumer devices with speech recognition, like Amazon Echo. I mentioned that everyone is getting into the “always listening” game (Alexa, OK Google, Hey Siri, Hi Galaxy, Assistant, Hey Cortana, OK Hound, etc.), and I’ve explained that privacy concerns attempt to be addressed by putting the “always listening” mode on the device, rather than in the cloud.
Let’s now look deeper into the “always listening” approaches and compare some of the different methods and platforms available for embedded triggers.
There are a few basic approaches for running embedded voice wakeup triggers:
First, is running on an embedded DSP, microprocessor, and/or smart microphones. I like to think of this as a “deeply embedded: approach as opposed to running embedded on the operating system (OS). Knowles recently announced a design with a smart mike that provides low-power wake up assistance.
Many leading chip companies have small DSPs that are enabled for “wake up word” detection. These vendors include Audience, Avnera, Cirrus Logic, Conexant, DSPG, Fortemedia, Intel, InvenSense, NXP, Qualcomm, QuickLogic, Realtek, STMicroelectronics, TI, and Yamaha. Many of these companies combine noise suppression or acoustic echo cancellation to make these chips add value beyond speech recognition. Quicklogic recently announced availability of an “always listening” sensor fusion hub, the EOS S3, which lets the sensor listen while consuming very little power.
Next is DSP IP availability. The concept of low-power voice wakeup has gotten so popular amongst processor vendors that the leading DSP/MCU IP cores from ARM, Cadence, CEVA, NXP CoolFlux, Synopsys, and Verisilicon all offer this capability, and some even offer special versions targeting this function.
Running on an embedded OS is another option. Bigger systems like Android, Windows, or Linux can also run voice wake-up triggers. The bigger systems might not be so applicable for battery-operated devices, but they offer the advantage of being able to implement larger and more powerful voice models that can improve accuracy. The DSPs and MCUs might run a 50-kbyte trigger at 1 mA, while bigger systems can cut error rates in half by increasing models to hundreds of megabytes and power consumption to hundreds of milliamps. Apple used this approach in its initial implementation of Siri, thus explaining why the iPhone needed to be plugged in to be “always listening.”
Finally, one can try combinations and multi-level approaches. Some companies are implementing low-power wake-up engines that look to a more powerful system when woken up to confirm its accuracy. This can be done on the device itself or in the cloud. This approach works well for more complex uses of speech technology like speaker verification or identification, where the DSPs are often crippled in performance and a larger system can implement a more state of the art approach. It’s basically getting the accuracy of bigger models and systems, while lowering power consumption by running a less accurate and smaller wakeup system first.
A variant of this approach is accomplished with a low-power speech detection block acting as an always listening front-end, that then wakes up the deeply embedded recognition. Some companies have erred by using traditional speech-detection blocks that work fine for starting a recording of a sentence (like an answering machine), but fail when the job is to recognize a single word, where losing 100 ms can have a huge effect on accuracy. Sensory has developed a very low power hardware sound-detection block that runs on systems like the Knowles mike and Quicklogic sensor hub.
June 17, 2016
Hey Siri, Cortana, Google, Assistant, Alexa, BlueGenie, Hound, Galaxy, Ivee, Samantha, Jarvis, or any other voice-recognition assistant out there.
Now that Google and Apple have announced that they’ll be following Amazon into the home far-field voice assistant business, I’m wondering how many things in my home will always be on, listening for voice wakeup phrases. In addition, how will they work together (if at all). Let’s look at some possible alternatives:
Co-existence. We’re heading down a path where we as consumers will have multiple devices on and listening in our homes and each device will respond to its name when spoken to. This works well with my family; we just talk to each other, and if we need to, we use each other’s names to differentiate. I can have friends and family over or even a big party, and it doesn’t become problematic calling different people by different names.
The issue for household computer assistants all being on simultaneously is that false fires will grow in direct proportion to the number of devices on and listening. With Amazon’s Echo, I get a false fire about every other day, and Alexa does a great job of listening to what I say after the false fire and ignoring if it doesn’t seem to be an intended command. It’s actually the best performing system I’ve used and the fact that its starts playing music or talking every other week is a testament to what a good job they have done. However, interrupting my family every other week is not good enough. And if I have five always-listening devices interrupting us 10 times a month, that becomes unacceptable. And if they don’t do as good a job as Alexa, and interrupt more frequently, it becomes quite problematic.
Functional winners. Maybe each device could own a functional category. For example, all my music systems could use Alexa, my TV’s use Hi Galaxy, and all appliances are Bosch. Then I’d have less “names” to call out to and there would be some big benefits: 1) The devices using the same trigger phrase could communicate and compare what they heard to improve performance; 2) More relevant data could be collected on the specific usage models, thus further improving performance; and 3) With less names to call out, I’d have fewer false fires. Of course, this would force me as a consumer to decide on certain brands to stick to in certain categories.
Winner take all. Amazon is adopting a multi-pronged strategy of developing its own products (Echo, Dot, Tap, etc.) and also letting its products control other products. In addition, Amazon is offering the backend Alexa voice service to independent product developers. It’s unclear whether competitors will follow suit, but one thing is clear—the big guys want to own the home, not share it.
Amazon has a nice lead as it gets other products to be controlled by Echo. The company even launched an investment fund to spur more startups writing to Alexa. Consumers might choose an assistant we like (and we think performs well) and just stick with that across the household. The more we share with that assistant, the better it knows us, and the better it serves us. This knowledge base could carry across products and make our lives easier.
Just Talk. In the “co-existence” case previously mentioned, there six people in my household, so it can be a busy place. But when I speak to someone, I don’t always start with their name. In fact, I usually don’t. If there’s just one other person in the room, it’s obvious who I’m speaking to. If there are multiple people in the room, I tend to look at or gesture toward the person I’m addressing. This is more natural than speaking their name.
An “always listening” device should have other sensors to know things like how many people are in the room, where they’re standing and looking at, how they’re gesturing, and so on. These are the subconscious cues humans use to know who is talking to us, and our devices would be smarter and more capable if they could do it.
June 15, 2016
“Credit to the team at Amazon for creating a lot of excitement in this space,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai. He made this comment during his Google I/O speech last week when introducing Google’s new voice-controlled home speaker, Google Home which offers a similar sounding description to Amazon’s Echo. Many interpreted this as a “thanks for getting it started, now we’ll take over,” kind of comment.
Google has always been somewhat marketing challenged in naming its voice assistant. Everyone knows Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, and Amazon has Alexa. But what is Google’s voice assistant called? Is it Google Voice, Google Now, OK Google, Voice Actions? Even those of us in the speech industry have found Google’s branding to be confusing. Maybe they’re clearing that up now by calling their assistant “Google Assistant.” Maybe that’s the Google way of admitting it’s an assistant without admitting they were wrong by not giving it a human sounding name.
The combination of the early announcement of Google Home and Google Assistant has caused some to comment that Amazon has BIG competition at best, and at worst, Amazon’s Alexa is in BIG trouble.
I thought I’d point out a few good reasons why Amazon is in pretty good shape:
Of course, Amazon has its challenges as well, but I’ll leave that for another blog.