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Who (or what) is really listening to your conversation

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.

Read more at Embedded Computing…

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!

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!!!