In Smart Audio, Part 1 of this blog series we looked at the smart audio approach taken to realize a new vision of voice-demand electronic systems. You’ve probably already experienced some of the applications provided by voice assistants in your day-to-day life. (see Figure 1):
A set of possible solutions for smart audio applications using smart audio chips (source: STMicroelectronics)
This smart voice recognition system is another opportunity for manufacturers of advanced electronic smart systems and devices to add intelligence and connectivity to the sound in electronic gadgets.
The core of such a system is the sensing element: a MEMS microphone, which performs omnidirectional sound sensing by converting the air pressure into an analog electrical voltage. This data is then processed by an SoC with a smart set of integrated microcontrollers. The smart BlueCoin solution presented by STMicroelectronics at the Sensors Expo 2017 (See Figure 2) is one such device.
The Blue Coin overview: a smart audio chip based on the MEMS microphones as sensing integrated elements. (Source: STMicroelectronics)
This type of solution perfectly suits the Internet of Things approach. The smart audio approach combines a sensor and a wireless module with smart ICs to reveal any sound, or more generally, to elaborate the sound in order to interface with a net of reference systems and create a network of a home’s electronic gadgets, connected to the central communication infrastructure of a smart house. (See Figure 3):
Sequence of activities in the Wireless Home Automation System based on speech commands. (Source: ResearchGate)
There are several electronics companies opting for the smart audio application space.
For example, STMicroelectronics is developing smart MEMS microphones because this kind of chip is very promising. “MEMS microphones are entering new application areas such as voice-enabled gaming, automotive voice systems, acoustic sensors for industry and security applications, and medical telemetry. Its unique construction, performance and form factor has made possible what was unthinkable earlier.” (Source: EE Herald)
Moreover, STMicroelectronics is collaborating with some high-end companies in the audio sector:
“STMicroelectronics (NYSE: STM), a global semiconductor leader serving customers across the spectrum of electronics applications and a top MEMS supplier, DSP Group Inc (NASDAQ: DSPG), a leading global provider of wireless chipset solutions for converged communications, and Sensory Inc, the leader in voice interface and keyword-detect algorithms, have revealed details for a highly power-efficient, voice-detecting and -processing microphone that delivers keyword-recognition capabilities in a compact package. The small System-in-Package (SiP) device integrates a low-power ST MEMS microphone enabled by DSP Group’s ultra-low power voice-processing chip and Sensory’s voice-recognition firmware. The solution leverages ST’s advanced packaging technology to achieve a powerful yet lightweight package, extremely long battery runtimes, and advanced functionality.” (Source: st.com)
Additionally, according to tear-down reports from Yole Developpement and Techinsights, ST’s microphones are used by Apple in the iPhone 7 Plus:
“In every iPhone 7 Plus we examined, we observed a Knowles design win for the rear-facing top microphone and an STMicroelectronics design win for the front-facing top microphone”, explains Sylvain Hallereau in charge of costing analyses for IC, Power and MEMS at System Plus Consulting. – Yole Developpement
“Looking over at the iFixit teardown of the iPhone 7 Plus we see STMicroelectronics has also scored design wins into the iPhone 7 Plus.” TechInsights
ST’s MEMS microphones show up in some remarkable applications. This smart IC is even used to analyze and sense the swing of a golf player (see Figure 4):
The ClubHub overview: a smart golf swing analyzer based on the MEMS microphones as sensing integrated elements. (Source: STMicroelectronics)
What do you think about the possibilities of smart audio and the robotic ear? Do you think that the integration of smart electronics systems into a system-on-chip is leading to the next stage of the smart home? What do you think are the strengths of such an approach?