Chips Used for 'Wake Word' in Alexa System
By Kevin Costelloe published in the Orange County Business Journal.
Upstart semiconductor company Syntiant Corp. of Irvine has been certified to play a key role in the most power-sensitive battery-operated devices using Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service.
The artificial intelligence semiconductor company said earlier this month its low-power “wake word” offering, which brings the Alexa electronic assistant back into action, received Amazon qualification.
That means Syntiant’s low-power chips can be used in Alexa-connected products ranging from hearing aids, to ear buds, watches, cellphones and laptops for what are called “always-on” battery-powered devices, said Syntiant Chief Executive Kurt Busch.
“We recently received Alexa qualification for the wake word,” Busch said. “We are adding additional wake words, as well as command words. We’ll add things like ‘volume up’ and ‘volume down’ and other voice interactions to the same device.”
Syntiant’s chips aim to make it extremely easy to add voice control to any Internet of Things connected device, and the company’s chip—which use a fraction of the power of current semiconductor standards—are expected to help expand the Amazon ecosystem of IoT-powered consumer devices.
“We’re really focusing on battery-powered devices,” Busch told the Business Journal on Aug. 15. “Our plan is that this will lead to significant revenue for both ourselves, as well as our customers.”
$30M and Counting
Busch declined to specify the potential revenue amounts involved, though the general field is extremely broad.
Founded in 2017, Syntiant is backed by some of the world’s leading tech companies, including Intel Capital, Microsoft M12, Bosch Ventures, and the Amazon Alexa Fund. It received $30 million in investments; the company was profiled by the Business Journal in April, after its first batch of chips were put into limited production.
The latest benchmark with Amazon "actually helps our customers go to production with Alexa-certified products much easier," Busch said. Then the customers can sell the products within the Amazon ecosystem. Busch said the processors have capacity to handle up to 63 words.
Specifically, the company said its Syntiant NDP100 and Syntiant NDP101 microwatt-power Neural Decision Processors (NDPs) are now available for use with the Amazon Alexa Voice Service.
The Syntiant chips need only about 150 microwatts of power or less, while others require 50 to 100 times more power.
“We don’t have any direct competition at these power levels,” Busch said. “We open up an entirely different type of application.”
“There’s obviously people that do have Amazon-qualified wake word solutions but none at our power level by at least one to two orders of magnitude,” said Busch