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Sensory Earns Two Coveted 2016 Speech Tech Magazine Awards

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:

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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.”

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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

 

Google Assistant vs. Amazon’s Alexa

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?

Read more at Embedded Computing…

Consumer concerns about being connected

March 28, 2016

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Just saw an interesting article on www.eweek.com

Covers a consumer survey about being connected and particularly with IoT devices. What’s interesting is that those surveyed were technically savvy (70% were self-described as intermediate or advanced with computers, and 83% said they could set up their own router), yet the survey found:

1)    68 percent of consumers expressed concern about security risks such as viruses, malware and hackers;
2)    65 percent of consumers were concerned over data collected by device manufacturers being inappropriately used or stolen; and
3)    51 percent of consumers said they are also anxious about privacy breaches.

These concerns are quite understandable, since we as consumers tend to give away many of our data rights in return for free services and software.

People have asked me if embedded speech and other embedded technologies will continue to persist if our cloud connections get better and faster, and the privacy issues are one of the reasons why embedded is critical.

This is especially true for “always on” devices that listen for triggers; if the always on listening is in the cloud, then everything we discuss around the always on mics goes into the cloud to be analyzed and potentially collected!

Sensory’s CEO, Todd Mozer, interviewed on FutureTalk

October 1, 2015

Todd Mozer’s interview with Martin Wasserman on FutureTalk

TrulyHandsfree 4.0… Maintaining the big lead!

August 6, 2015

We first came out with TrulyHandsfree about five years ago. I remember talking to speech tech executives at MobileVoice as well as other industry tradeshows, and when talking about always-on hands-free voice control, everybody said it couldn’t be done. Many had attempted it, but their offerings suffered from too many false fires, or not working in noise, or consuming too much power to be always listening. Seems that everyone thought a button was necessary to be usable!

In fact, I remember the irony of being on an automotive panel, and giving a presentation about how we’ve eliminated the need for a trigger button, while the guy from Microsoft presented on the same panel the importance of where to put the trigger button in the car.

Now, five years later, voice activation is the norm… we see it all over the place with OK Google, Hey Siri, Hey Cortana, Alexa, Hey Jibo, and of course if you’ve been watching Sensory’s demos over the years, Hello BlueGenie!

Sensory pioneered the button free, touch free, always-on voice trigger approach with TrulyHandsfree 1.0 using a unique, patented keyword spotting technology we developed in-house– and from its inception, it was highly robust to noise and it was ultra-low power. Over the years we have ported it to dozens of platforms, Including DSP/MCU IP cores from ARM, Cadence, CEVA, NXP CoolFlux, Synopsys and Verisilicon, as well as for integrated circuits from Audience, Avnera, Cirrus Logic, Conexant, DSPG, Fortemedia, Intel, Invensense, NXP, Qualcomm, QuickLogic, Realtek, STMicroelectronics, TI and Yamaha.

This vast platform compatibility has allowed us to work with numerous OEMs to ship TrulyHandsfree in over a billion products!

Sensory didn’t just innovate a novel keyword spotting approach, we’ve continually improved it by adding features like speaker verification and user defined triggers. Working with partners, we lowered the draw on the battery to less than 1mA, and Sensory introduced hardware and software IP to enable ultra-low-power voice wakeup of TrulyHandsfree. All the while, our accuracy has remained the best in the industry for voice wakeup.

We believe the bigger, more capable companies trying to make voice triggers have been forced to use deep learning speech techniques to try and catch up with Sensory in the accuracy department. They have yet to catch up, but they have grown their products to a very usable accuracy level, through deep learning, but lost much of the advantages of small footprint and low power in the process.

Sensory has been architecting solutions for neural nets in consumer electronics since we opened the doors more than 20 years ago. With TrulyHandsfree 4.0 we are applying deep learning to improve accuracy even further, pushing the technology even more ahead of all other approaches, yet enabling an architecture that has the ability to remain small and ultra-low power. We are enabling new feature extraction approaches, as well as improved training in reverb and echo. The end result is a 60-80% boost in what was already considered industry-leading accuracy.

I can’t wait for TrulyHandsfree 5.0…we have been working on it in parallel with 4.0, and although it’s still a long ways off, I am confident we will make the same massive improvements in speaker verification with 5.0 that we are doing for speech recognition in 4.0! Once again further advancing the state of the art in embedded speech technologies!

Rambling On… Chip Acquisitions and Software Differentiation

June 3, 2015

When I started Sensory over 20 years ago, I knew how difficult it would be to sell software to cost sensitive consumer electronic OEMs that would know my cost of goods. A chip based method of packaging up the technology made a lot of sense as a turnkey solution that could maintain a floor price by adding the features of a microcontroller or DSP with the added benefit of providing speech I/O. The idea was “buy Sensory’s micro or DSP and get speech I/O thrown in for free”.

After about 10 years it was becoming clear that Sensory’s value add in the market was really in technology development, and particularly in developing technologies that could run on low cost chips and with smaller footprints, less power, and superior accuracy than other solutions. Our strategy of using trailing IC technologies to get the best price point was becoming useless because we lacked the scale to negotiate the best pricing, and more cutting edge technologies were becoming further out of reach; even getting the supply commitments we needed was difficult in a world of continuing flux between over and under capacity.

So Sensory began porting our speech technologies onto other people’s chips. Last year about 10% of our sales came from our internal IC’s! Sensory’s DSP, IP, and platform partners have turned into the most strategic of our partnerships.

Today in the semiconductor industry there is a consolidation that is occurring that somewhat mirrors Sensory’s thinking over the past 10 years, albeit at a much larger scale. Avago pays $37 billion dollars for Broadcom, Intel pays $16.7B for Altera, and NXP pays $12B for Freescale, and the list goes on, dwarfing acquisitions of earlier time periods.

It used to be the multi-billion dollar chip companies gobbled up the smaller fabless companies, but now even the multibillion-dollar chip companies are being gobbled up. There’s a lot of reasons for this but economies of scale is probably #1. As chips get smaller and smaller, there are increasing costs for design tools, tape outs, prototyping, and although the actual variable per chip cost drops, the fixed costs are skyrocketing, making consolidation and scale more attractive.

That sort of consolidation strategy is very much a hardware centered philosophy. I think the real value will come to these chip giants through in house technology differentiation. It’s that differentiation that will add value to their chips, enabling better margins and/or more sales.

I expect that over time the chip giants will realize what Sensory concluded 10 years ago…that machine learning, algorithmic differentiation, and software skills, are where the majority of the value added equation on “smart” chips needs to come from, and that improving the user experience on devices can be a pot of gold! In fact, we have already seen Intel, Qualcomm and many other chip giants investing in speech recognition, biometrics, and other user experience technologies, so the change is underway!

OK, Amazon!

May 4, 2015

I was at the Mobile Voice Conference last week and was on a keynote panel with Adam Cheyer (Siri, Viv, etc.) and Phil Gray (Interactions) with Bill Meisel moderating. One of Bills questions was about the best speech products, and of course there was a lot of banter about Siri, Cortana, and Voice Actions (or GoogleNow as it’s often referred to). When it was my turn to chime in I spoke about Amazon’s Echo, and heaped lots of praise on it. I had done a bit of testing on it before the conference but I didn’t own one. I decided to buy one from Ebay since Amazon didn’t seem to ever get around to selling me one. It arrived yesterday.

Here are some miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Echo is a fantastic product! Not so much because of what it is today but for the platform it’s creating for tomorrow. I see it as every bit as revolutionary as Siri.
  • The naming is really confusing. You call it Alexa but the product is Echo. I suspect this isn’t the blunder that Google made (VoiceActions, GoogleNow, GoogleVoice, etc.), but more an indication that they are thinking of Echo as the product and Alexa as the personality, and that new products will ship with the same personality over time. This makes sense!
  • Setup was really nice and easy, the music content integration/access is awesome, the music quality could be a bit better but is useable; there’s lots of other stuff that normal reviewers will talk about…But I’m not a “normal” reviewer because I have been working with speech recognition consumer electronics for over 20 years, and my kids have grown up using voice products, so I’ll focus on speech…
  • My 11 year old son, Sam, is pretty used to me bringing home voice products, and is often enthusiastic (he insisted on taking my Vocca voice controlled light to keep in his room earlier this year). Sam watched me unpack it and immediately got the hang of it and used it to get stats on sports figures and play songs he likes. Sam wants one for his birthday! Amazon must have included some kids voice modeling in their data because it worked pretty well with his voice (unlike the Xbox when it first shipped, which I found particularly ironic since Xbox was targeting kids).
  • The Alexa trigger works VERY well. They have implemented beamforming and echo cancellation in a very state of the art implementation. The biggest issue is that it’s a very bandwidth intensive approach and is not low power. Green is in! That could be why its plug-in/AC only and not battery powered. Noise near the speaker definitely hurts performance as does distance, but it absolutely represents a new dimension in voice usability from a distance and unlike with the Xbox, you can move anywhere around it, and aren’t forced to be in a stationary position (thanks to their 7 mics, which surely must be overkill!)
  • The voice recognition in generally is good, but like all of the better engines today (Google, Siri, Cortana, and even Sensory’s TrulyNatural) it needs to get better. We did have a number of problems where Alexa got confused. Also, Alexa doesn’t appear to have memory of past events, which I expect will improve with upgrades. I tried playing the band Cake (a short word, making it more difficult) and it took about 4 attempts until it said “Would you like me to play Cake?” Then I made the mistake of trying “uh-huh” instead of “yes” and I had to start all over again!
  • My FAVORITE thing about the recognizer is that it does ignore things very nicely. It’s very hard to know when to respond and when not to. The Voice Assistants (Google, Siri, Cortana) seem to always defer to web searches and say things like “It’s too noisy” no matter what I do, and I thought Echo was good at deciding not to respond sometimes.

OK, Amazon… here’s my free advice (admittedly self-serving but nevertheless accurate):

  • You need to know who is talking and build models of their voices and remember who they are and what their preferences are. Sensory has the BEST embedded speaker identification/verification engine in the world, and it’s embedded so you don’t need to send a bunch of personal data into the cloud. Check out TrulySecure!
  • In fact, if you added a camera to Alexa, it too could be used for many vision features, including face authentication.
  • Make it battery powered and portable! To do this, you’d need an equally good embedded trigger technology that runs at low power – Check out TrulyHandsfree!
  • If it’s going to be portable, then it needs to work if even when not connected to the Internet. For this, you’d need an amazing large vocabulary embedded speech engine. Did I tell you about TrulyNatural?
  • Of course, the hope is that the product-line will quickly expand and as a result, you will then add various sensors, microphones, cameras, wheels, etc.; and at the same time, you will also want to develop lower cost versions that don’t have all the mics and expensive processing. You are first to market and that’s a big edge. A lot of companies are trying to follow you. You need to expand the product-line quickly, learning from Alexa. Too many big companies have NIH syndrome… don’t be like them! Look for partnering opportunities with 3rd parties who can help your products succeed – Like Sensory! ;-)

Mobile World Congress Day 1

March 3, 2015

It feels like I had a whole week’s worth of the trade show wrapped into one day! By the time mid week hits, I’ll surely be ready to head home! Here are some of the highlights from the first day of Mobile World Congress 2015:

  • First a word about Catalonia. That’s where Barcelona is…in the heart of Catalonia, a province of Spain. Don’t expect delayed meetings, inefficiencies, relaxed long lunches or anything like that. The Catalonians have the precision of Germans (to continue my gross stereotyping!), and my experience with one of the largest trade shows on the planet is that it’s going off without a hitch! I picked up my badge at the airport in a five-minute line that was well staffed and moved rapidly. I could just about walk into the show yesterday morning. The subways and trains though crowded and overheated ran extremely smoothly. Kudos to the show management for pulling off such a difficult feat!
  • I’d be remiss without mentioning the Galaxy S6. Samsung invited us to the launch and of course they continue to use Sensory in a relationship that has grown quite strong over the years.  Samsung continues to innovate with the Edge, and other products that everyone is talking about. It’s amazing how far Apple took the mantle in the first iPhone and how companies like Samsung and the Android system seem to now be leading the charge on innovation!
  • My favorite product that doesn’t feature Sensory technology that I bumped into was an electronic jump rope. They put sensors in the handles and a visual display shows across the field of the rope, kind of like those clocks that rapidly flash LED’s as the pendulum quickly moves back and forth in order to display the time. I talked with Alex Woo from Tangram and he said they were going to launch a crowdfunding campaign. I gave Alex a demo of our TrulyHandsfree with jump ropers jumping and all the show noise and of course it worked flawlessly. It would be really cool to be able to ask things like “How much time,” “How many jumps,” “What’s my heart rate,” or “How many calories burned” and so on, and the display would make voice control so much more functional!
  • We had a couple of partnership announcements here at the show, supporting both Qualcomm and Synopsys – both great partners to add to our support mix, and always nice when its customers driving our platform directions. The Qualcomm platform is interesting because it’s not their standard platform for 3rd parties to support. As far as I know they opened it up to Sensory and ONLY Sensory, and already we are seeing much interest!
  • Last night ZTE had a press party to indoctrinate Sensory and NXP into its Smart Voice Alliance. ZTE is really putting some forward thinking into the user experience and their research shows how much people want a voice interface but how dissatisfying the current state of the art actually is. Sensory’s hoping to change that! We’ll make one of our biggest announcements in history over the next month… and I’ll let you in on the secret (it’s on our website already!) We call it TrulyNatural, and it will be the highest accuracy large vocabulary embedded speech engine that the world has ever seen!

Hasta Luego!!!

Deep Listening in the Cloud

February 11, 2015

The advent of “always on” speech processing has raised concerns about organizations spying on us from the cloud.

4081596290_5ccb708d7d_mIn this Money/CNN article, Samsung is quoted as saying, “Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties.” But, does this also mean that your voice data isn’t being saved at all? Not necessarily. In a separate article, the speech recognition system in Samsung’s TVs is shown to be an always-learning cloud-based system solution from Nuance. I would guess that there is voice data being saved, and that Nuance is doing it.

This doesn’t mean Nuance is doing anything evil; this is just the way that machine learning works. There has been this big movement towards “deep” learning, and what “deep” really means is more sophisticated learning algorithms that require more data to work. In the case of speech recognition, the data needed is speech data, or speech features data that can be used to train and adapt the deep nets.

But just because there is a necessary use for capturing voice data and invading privacy, doesn’t mean that companies should do it. This isn’t just a cloud-based voice recognition software issue; it’s an issue with everyone doing cloud based deep learning. We all know that Google’s goal in life is to collect data on everything so Google can better assist you in spending money on the right things. We in fact sign away our privacy to get these free services!

I admit guilt too. When Sensory first achieved usable results for always-on voice triggers, the basis of our TrulyHandsfree technology, I applied for a patent on a “background recognition system” that listens to what you are talking about in private and puts together different things spoken at different times to figure out what you want…. without you directly asking for it.

Can speech recognition be done without having to send all this private data to the cloud? Sure it can! There’s two parts in today’s recognition systems: 1) The wake up phrase; 2) The cloud based deep net recognizer – AND NOW THEY CAN BOTH BE DONE ON DEVICE!

Sensory pioneered the low-power wake up phrase on device (item 1), now we have a big team working on making an EMBEDDED deep learning speech recognition system so that no personal data needs to be sent to the cloud. We call this approach TrulyNatural, and it’s going to hit the market very soon! We have benchmarked TrulyNatural against state-of-the-art cloud-based deep learning systems and have matched and in some cases bested the performance!

I Love Robots!

July 31, 2014

Yeah, I grew up in an era of watching robots on TV and in the movies, and reading about them in books and comic strips. They were and still are a part of our media culture. My goal in life has been to live in a Jetsons-like world! Well, not really, but I do have a film slide of Rosie the Maid up on my wall, and the mod, Googie, mid-century future style from the Jetsons is definitely my style.

It’s been fun at Sensory to be part of a robot revolution in toys. We have put speech technologies into over 50 robotic creatures from dolls to strange new alien things like Furby. When Aibo first shipped, we had half a dozen companies come to us with awesome designs for new low cost robotic dogs that could respond to their masters’ voices!

Here’s a fun realistic looking robot dog – Scamps.  Sensory was in this a few years ago, and it seems to be enjoying a huge comeback in 2014.

More recently we were in Intel’s “Jarvis” headset…When we first created the Jarvis trigger, I didn’t get the name. Then I saw the movie Ironman! :-)

Sensory has designed a lot of robotic technologies beyond speech recognition and synthesis. We have platforms such as sound sourcing, where a robot with two mics can locate the speaker through triangulation. We have sonic networking as a low cost wireless protocol so robots can take commands from TV commercials or YouTube videos or even other robots. We even have made lip synchronization approaches and pitch detection technologies so robots can mimic their owners in a fun and playful way.

The rise of robotic vacuum and window cleaners and non-toy robotic applications is really Neato (yeah that’s a pun!) Of course there have been a lot of beer delivery home robots over the years too, but none of them are making it into the mainstream.

The magic however has not yet really hit, because I want the fun, playfulness, and interactivity of the toys but with utility added in, so it really is more like the Jetsons or Lost in Space.

Jibo is a new robot that might foot this bill, and it seems that I’m not the only one that likes the concept,  as it is getting pretty close to being one of the Top 10 funded Indiegogo campaigns of all time!

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