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KitKat’s Listening!

November 15, 2013

Android introduced the new KitKat OS for the Nexus 5, and Sensory has gotten lots of questions about the new “always listening” feature that allows a user to say “OK Google” followed by a Google Now search. Here’s some of the common questions:

  1. Is it Sensory’s? Did it come from LG (like the hardware)? Is it Google’s in-house technology? I believe it was developed within the speech team at Android. LG does use Sensory’s technology in the G2, but this does not appear to be an implementation of Sensory. Google has one of the smartest, most capable, and one of the larger speech recognition groups in the industry, and they certainly have the chops to build a key word spotting technology. Actually, developing a voice activated trigger is not very hard. There are several dozens of companies that can do this today (including Qualcomm!). However, making it useable in an “always on” mode is very difficult where accuracy is really important.
  2. The KitKat trigger is just like the one on MotoX, right? Ugh, definitely not. Moto X really has “always on” capabilities. This requires low power operation. The Android approach consumes too much power to be left “always on”. Also, the Moto X approach combines speaker verification so the “wrong” users can’t just take over the phone with their voice. Motorola is a Sensory licensee, Android isn’t.
  3. How is Sensory’s trigger word technology different than others?
    • First of all, Sensory’s approach is ultra low power. We have IC partners like Cirrus Logic, DSPG, Realtek, and Wolfson that are measuring current consumption in the 1.5-2mA range. My guess is that the KitKat implementation consumes 10-100 times more power than this. This is for 2 reasons, 1) We have implemented a “deeply embedded” approach on these tiny DSPs and 2) Sensory’s approach requires as little as 5 MIPS, whereas most other recognizers need 10 to 100 times more processing power and must run on the power hungry Android processor!
    • Second…Sensory’s approach requires minimal memory. These small DSP’s that run at ultra low power allow less RAM and more limited memory access. The traditional approach to speech recognition is to collect tons of data and build huge models that take a lot of memory…very difficult to move this approach onto low power silicon.
    • Thirdly, to be left always on really pushes accuracy, and Sensory is VERY unique in the accuracy of its triggers. Accuracy is usually measured in looking at the two types of errors – “false accepts” when it fires unintentionally, and “false rejects” when it doesn’t let a person in when they say the right phrase. When there’s a short listening window, then “false accepts” aren’t too much of an issue, and the KitKat implementation has very intentionally allowed a “loose” setting which I suspect would produce too many false accepts if it was left “always on”. For example, I found this YouTube video that shows “OK Google” works great, but so does “OK Barry” and “OK Jarvis”
    • Finally, Sensory has layered other technologies on top of the trigger, like speaker verification, and speaker identification. Also Sensory has implemented a “user defined trigger” capability that allows the end customer to define their own trigger, so the phone can accurately and at ultra low power respond to the users personalized commands!