Austin’s Cirrus Logic releases hardware to bring Amazon’s Alexa to more devices

Posted July 12th, 2017

Austin-based tech company Cirrus Logic has released what it says is the baseline for a series of products that work with Amazon’s increasingly popular Alexa voice-control system.

Its Voice Capture Development Kit for Amazon AVS (Alexa Voice Service) is a reference circuit board that includes two microphones and features including echo cancellation and audio technology that makes voice recognition more accurate, even in noisy environments. It sells for $400 on Amazon’s developer site.

Cirrus Logic is best known for making specialized low-power chips, many of which are incorporated into smartphones, tablets and other portable devices. 

Cirrus Logic vice president Carl Alberty said the release of the Voice Capture Development Kit is a way to help companies that want to add such features to their hardware devices, but who “don’t have the audio-related expertise or software or acoustic engineering.”

“Making things work in a real-world situation like a smart home is incredibly challenging,” Alberty said.

The Alexa platform, which Amazon debuted in late 2014 in a home speaker called the Amazon Echo, has developed into a consumer hit and now has spinoffs such as the diminutive Echo Dot, the portable Amazon Tap and the just-released Amazon Echo Show, which adds a screen.

Laura Skelding / AMERICAN-STATESMANCarl Alberty, vice president at Cirrus Logic.

This week, Amazon’s Prime Day dropped the price of the Echo to $90, about half the price of what it sold at at one time. In terms of recognition, Alexa appears to be the Siri of smart home gadgets in the way that Apple’s technology ushered in artificial intelligence assistants on smartphones. 

Alberty said that the reference system is not meant to replace the technology in, say, an Amazon Echo, which has more microphones and is geared specifically for voice interaction.

Instead, it could be used in devices such as remote controls and thermostats that people won’t be trying to interact with from across a room.

“It’s a much more constrained user experience in those cases, but there’s still a ton of room for improvement,” he said. “Not every customer is able to invest in hardware like Amazon.”

As an example of what the reference board offers, Alberty said that Cirrus has decades of experience in echo-canceling technology from creating products for phones, headsets and vehicles. In the case of an Echo-like product, that technology can ensure that a smart device can hear your voice command even if you’re shouting it over loud music or while other audio is playing. It’s known as a “Barge-in” feature.

Cirrus collaborated closely with Amazon on the kit through the company’s Alexa Voice Services team.

But while Amazon appears to be the leader in creating a voice-command ecosystem, Alberty said that the company has not stopped working with other partners from startups to established players such as Google and Apple on tech that complements their offerings.

“Apple’s our biggest customer. We’ve got ongoing discussions with them. We’ve been working on a bunch of things in parallel, some predating Alexa,” he said.