After two years of development work, Austin’s Cirrus Logic is poised to release a new chip and software tools that will allow tech companies to install voice biometrics on their devices.
This means that smart home devices, mobile phones and other “Internet of Things” products will be able to use just the sound of your voice to authenticate you instead of a password or passcode, similar to how the new Apple iPhone X is using people’s faces to unlock their phones.
While voice biometrics have been used by banks for years, only now has the technology evolved to the point where voice biometrics can be “embedded” on a device, with the data stored on a chip and not on a cloud.
There are about 200 million people worldwide who use a voice biometric system, according to Opus Research. That is forecasted to grow to 500 million by 2020. But these figures do not include voice biometrics that are embedded on devices.
It makes sense that Cirrus would develop a voice biometrics chip because they specialize in low-power voice and audio chips for smartphones, tablets and digital headphones. Their biggest customer is Apple, though they don’t publicly acknowledge that.
Other Cirrus Logic customers include Samsung, Sony, Motorola and Lenovo.
Carl Alberty, the vice president of marketing for Cirrus Logic, said that using voices as a way to interact with, operate and unlock our devices will become more commonplace as the technology matures.
For instance, Alberty said if your voice is used to unlock your phone while driving it’s far less distracting than having to pick up your phone and unlock it with your finger or by punching in a passcode.
“It could be an alternative to touch and provide a level of security that is at least as good as a fingerprint from a security perspective,” Alberty said. “It’s a very different user experience.”
Cirrus Logic said it plans to put the chip and software in the hands of a few key customers this fall. CEO Jason Rhode said during a conference call with analysts earlier this year that the company plans to do further testing and refinement based on feedback from these customers.
Some of the technical challenges involve discerning voices in noisy situations, like at a crowded bar. Alberty said there are also security issues, such as making sure someone can’t record you saying something and use it to open your device.
“Voice biometrics is not perfect, but no authentication is,” said Ravin Sanjith, an analyst with Opus Research. They suggest to clients to have multiple ways of assessing someone’s identity, such as using a combination of passwords and biometrics.
Alberty said they want to make sure the user experience is strong enough that people want to use it, noting that when voice assistants first came out a few years ago, the experience was glitchy and people were reluctant to use them.
Cirrus Logic executives said voice biometrics will not bring in meaningful revenue for several years. “It’s a strategic focus for us,” Alberty said, adding that they anticipating adding it as a feature to existing platforms they already ship, such as digital headphones.
Cirrus Logic’s voice biometrics technology comes to them mostly by way of acquisition, the company said. One key acquisition occurred two years ago, when the company bought the embedded voice authentication technology from a Spanish company called Agnitio.