96Boards HiChips Parrot Board and 3-Mic Array Work with Amazon Alexa

Early last year, Banana Pi unveiled Allwinner SoC-Only 3-Mic Far-Field Development Kit for Amazon AVS, a board powered by Allwinner R18 processor extended with an external 3-mic array board, officially supported by Amazon Alexa Voice Service (AVS), and sold for $129 plus shipping.

There’s now a compatible board following 96Boards CE Extended form factor, and selling for just $79.99 plus shipping on Alibaba or 555.99 CNY on 1688.com. The board looks almost the same as the original 3-Mic far-field development kit, apart from the LS and HS connectors found in the 96Boards hardware platforms. Hichips Parrot board should not be confused with Allwinner R16 based Parrot board that was used by Allwinner internally, and never made available to the general public.

96boards Parrot Board Amazon-AVS 3-Mic far field board

Hichips Parrot board specifications:

  • SoC – Allwinner R18 quad-core Cortex-A53 processor @ 1.15GHz with Mali400MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8GB eMMC flash, micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI
  • Audio – 3x Microphones, 2x AEC, AUX and headphone output; GMEMS voice recognition algorithm
  • Connectivity – Dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB type-A port, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Expansion – Low-Speed header, High-Speed header as defined in 96Boards specifications
  • Power Supply – 12V DC input
  • Dimensions
    • Mainboard: 100 x 85mm (96Boards CE Extended)
    • Microphone array board – 104 x  90 mm (that does not make any sense if it is indeed the circular board shown above)
96Boards Hichips Parrot Board
Click to Enlarge

The board supports Linux, and you should be able to follow the instructions on Amazon developer website to get started.

At $79.90, it looks like a pretty good deal. But the first caveat is that you’d need at least 10 boards since that’s currently the minimum order quantity, and it’s not clear whether the 3-mic array board and speakers are both included with the Parrot board despite the first photo in this post being shown in both Alibaba and 1688 shops. Eventually, there should also be more details on the product page on 96Boards website.

Thanks to miniNodes for the tip.

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Jon Smirl
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There is another way to attach multiple mics to Allwinner CPUs. Almost all of the Allwinner CPUs support PDM MEMS DMICs. Here is one from Adafruit, https://www.adafruit.com/product/3492 (I bought a bunch probably why they ran out). You can attach upto eight of these mics to Allwinner CPUs. Don’t get hung up on the price, the mics are only $0.30, $5 is the convenience factor. You just wire then straight into the pins on the CPU and enable the driver in the kernel.

So if Seeed, etc are reading this — design a few PCBs with eight of these in a rectangle, circle, line, etc and put them up in Aliexpress for $10.

The Allwinner driver makes the mics appear as an 8-channel ALSA device. The AWS Alexa software will work out of the box (just point it at the right ALSA device).