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Amazon Introduces Echo 2, Echo Plus, Echo Connect, and Echo Spot Alexa Devices

September 28th, 2017 No comments

Beside their “all-new” Amazon Fire TV 2017, Amazon has made a bunch of other announcements mostly related to their Alexa services with four new or updated Echo devices:  the “all-new” Echo, the Echo Plus, Echo Connect, and the Echo Spot.

2017 Amazon Echo (aka Echo 2)

The new second generation of the Alexa based Echo has a new smaller design, improved sound with Dolby processing, and a lower price at just under $100.

Some of the key features include:

  • Speakers – 2.5″ woofer and 0.6″ tweeter
  • Connectivity
    • Dual band 802.11 b/g/n WiFi for streaming music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc…, controlling smart devices
    • Bluetooth LE
  • Audio
    • 3.5mm audio jack
    • 7-mic array using beamforming technology and enhanced noise cancellation.
    • Improved wake-word (“Alexa”) detection
  • Various designs with 6 different fabrics
  • Dimensions – 148 x 88 x 88 mm
  • Weight – 821 grams

The Echo can make free calls to the US, Mexico and Canada, control smart home devices such as the new Fire TV media player.

Amazon Echo Plus

Echo Plus has similar features to the Echo, but adds a built-in smart home hub to connect your smart devices such a lights, locks, and others. It sells for $149.99 with a Philips Hue smart lightbulb (while supplies last).

Amazon Echo Plus  main features and specifications:

  • Speakers – 2.5″ woofer and 0.8″ tweeter
  • Connectivity
    • Dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi
    • Bluetooth LE
  • Audio
    • 3.5mm audio jack
    • 7-mic array using beamforming technology and enhanced noise cancellation.
    • Improved wake-word (“Alexa”) detection
  • Built-in hub for simple setup of compatible (Zigbee) smart home devices
  • Misc – Light ring, volume ring, action button, microphone on/off button
  • Various designs with 6 different fabrics
  • Dimensions – 235 x 84 x 84 mm
  • Weight – 954 grams

Just like the Echo 2, Echo Plus can make free calls to North America, and control smart devices over WiFi and BLE, but the smart home hub appears to add support for Zigbee too allowing for a wider range of devices.

Echo Spot

Echo Spot is a compact devices with a round screen that works like other Echo, but can also show news, weather, smart home camera feeds, video calls, Alexa skills, and more on its display. Sold for $129.99 with delivery planned for December.

Key features:

  • Speakers – 1.4″ speaker
  • Display – 2.5″ round display
  • Connectivity
    • Dual band 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
    • Bluetooth LE
  • Audio
    • 3.5mm audio jack
    • 4-mic array using beamforming technology and enhanced noise cancellation.
    • Improved wake-word (“Alexa”) detection
  • Camera – front facing camera
  • Misc – Volume up/down, mic/camera on/off button,
  • Various designs with 6 different fabrics
  • Dimensions – 104 x 97 x 91 mm
  • Weight – 419 grams

Echo Spot comes with a single speaker, a simpler 4-mic arrow, and supports all features of the Echo 2 device.

Echo Connect

Echo Connect is a little different. It requires an Echo device, and transform it into a smart landline connected speakerphone, allowing you to call any phone numbers leveraging Alexa service, the microphone array, and your landline, if you still have one…

Echo Connect specifications:

  • Connectivity – Dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi
  • Ports – RJ11 phone jack
  • Misc – Reset button, LEDs
  • Dimensions – 130 x 90 x 29.5 mm
  • Weight – 126.9 grams

Amazon is taking pre-orderd for Echo Connect for $34.99 with delivery scheduled to start on December 13, 2017.

Onkyo Has Developed a Shaker Turning Walls & Home Appliances Into Speakers

September 22nd, 2017 6 comments

According to an article on Nikkei Technology, Onkyo has designed a shaker that can be attached directly to walls and/or the surface of home appliances, and turn them into speakers to play music and voices.

The device developed using Onkyo voice & music playing technologies, has a a minimum resonance frequency of 115 hertz, and measures just 41x 36 x 21 mm. The company expects it to be used in places where visible speakers are problematic, either due to installation issues because of requirements such as waterproofness or air tightness, or for aesthetic reasons.

Onkyo will provide the shaker to OEM’s in order to be integrated into home appliances or walls for artificial intelligence, or Internet of things applications. So voice enabled walls and washing machines may just be around the corner…

Review of Vobot Alarm Clock with Alexa

September 17th, 2017 4 comments

Karl here with a review of Vobot sent By Cafago. I had to Google it when I was asked to review it. Turned out it was an Echo type device with a pixel display and a battery. It started as an Indiegogo campaign. I had been wanting to try to do some sort of voice control with my home automation so I agreed to review it.

Vobot Clock C1 Specifications

These are pulled from Vobot’s website. No power supply is included but a long USB cable is.

Click to Enlarge

Vobot Setup

I let my wife do the initial setup as I figured that she would use it the most. She followed the instructions, and it seemed straightforward from what she told me. She said she had to reboot it once during a step but it continued the setup with no problems. She tied to our Amazon Prime account, and she quickly was playing some music. During research, I did find out that it was not an always listening device.

Firmware Update

I logged into myvobot.com today to see if anything had changed, and there was an update. It suggested that I rebooted the device so I did before updating. Without logging in I wouldn’t have known there was an update. Maybe I missed something but I don’t remember seeing or hearing some sort of notification. I received a verbal notification that it could take up to 10 minutes, but only took a few minutes. The thing is I have no idea what has changed or improved. There is no changelog.

Vobot Display

Display settings allow you to set Brightness, and the time to display Time, Date, Day of Week, Battery Status, and Date + Time.

Click to Enlarge

That’s what the time display looks like.

After pressing the mic button

Get this at times and the eyes blink

Date and time

Hard to catch this one..Starting to play music

Unplugging power and of course get different one when plugging in

Loading music stream

Teardown

I wanted to do a teardown when I first received the speaker, but I was afraid to break it. Now here at the end, I finally put some force behind it and finally got it apart. Only a few minor scratches and it seems to be fine. The teardown reveals that it is running on a Mediatek MT7688AN, and confirms battery’s capacity. 512MB NANYA storage NT5TU32M16FG-AC completes the list of the main chips. Maybe some enterprising soul will hack this and bring some imaginative new usage.

One big issue

Everything that I tried worked the way I expected for the most part . Home assistant can emulate a Hue bridge, but after reading in the forums, it only works with an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. Bummer, that is not the real issue I wanted to bring up. I really wish that it had an always listening microphone. You have to press the button to put it in listening mode. I understand that it has a battery, and would drain the battery but why not have it always listening when plugged in and use the button when roaming about.

Random final thoughts

OK now that I have a device that will take voice commands now what. I like the scrolling display. It is pretty cool and a little retro. I used this about 95% of the time just to play music. Don’t expect much from the speaker, but you can send audio to a home system through the 3.5mm jack on the back.

I know that there are 1000’s of skills but few attracted me. I did like the idea of calling another Alexa device but not supported. Arggh, OK maybe another issue. I did use the weather feature asking about the weather for the next day on occasion.

My 5 year old son was easily able to start music, and it could understand his voice which surprised me. The display is nice, and battery powered is a plus, but I don’t understand one thing. For just about the same price, I can get an Echo Dot which gets me always listening, and 100% works with all the features but no battery or display. I bet that the limitations with the exception of the always listening is inherent to all non Echo devices.

If you are looking for a portable Alexa powered device with a display then the Vobot might be for you. Seems sturdy. Descent battery life. I listened for about 2 hours and it still had a charge on the battery. To get an official Echo Tap it sets you back $120. It is the only official Echo that has a battery.

I would like to thank Cafago for sending the device for review. They provided a coupon code “V3127SA” for the Vobot which is good until 9/30/17, and brings the price down to $ 41.99/€36.1. You’ll also find it for $45 and up on other sites such as DX.com or Amazon.

Amlogic A111, A112 & A113 Processors are Designed for Audio Applications, Smart Speakers

September 9th, 2017 6 comments

Amlogic processors are mostly found in TVs and TV boxes, but the company is now apparently entering a new market with A111, A112, and A113 audio processors. I was first made aware of those new processors through Buildroot OpenLinux Release Notes V20170831.pdf document posted on their Open Linux website, where two boards with Amlogic A113D and A113X are shown.

S400 Version 03 Board

First, S400 board with the following key features/specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic A113D CPU
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 512MB SLC NAND flash
  • Display I/F – MIPI interface
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet SDIO WiFi/BT (AP6356S)
  • Audio
    • SPDIF_IN/SPDIF_OUT
    • LINE_IN/LINE_OUT
    • 2x Audio headers (MIC_Connector & SPK_Connector)
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 OTG
  • Expansion – 2x PCIe ports
  • Misc – 6x ADC Keys, IR_IN/IR_OUT, UART Interface (RS232)

The second S420 board is based on A113X SoC, and comes with less features (no display, no Ethernet, no PCIe…), less memory:

  • SoC – Amlogic A113X CPU
  • System Memory – 512 MB DDR3
  • Storage – 512MB SLC NAND flash
  • Connectivity – SDIO WiFi/BT (AP6356S)
  • Audio
    • SPDIF_IN
    • LINE_IN/LINE_OUT
    • 2x Audio headers (MIC_Connector & SPK_Connector)
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 OTG
  • Misc – 6x ADC Keys, IR_IN/IR_OUT, UART Interface (RS232)

The document also explains how to build Linux built with buildroot (you’ll need an Amlogic account), and use audio via applications or frameworks such as aplay, gstreamer, alsaplayer, shairport (Airplay), VLC, DLNA, etc…

Information about Amlogic A113X/A113D processor is lacking on the web, but I eventually found that Amlogic had a YouTube account with now a whopping two subscribers (including yours truly), and one of the two videos was an Alexa voice services demo on Amlogic A113 with what looks like a microphone array inserted on the top of the board.

Further research led me to a page in Chinese discussing Amlogic A111, A112, A113 audio processors, and revealing that Xiaomi AI smart speaker is based on Amlogic A112 quad core Cortex A53 processor, that also shows up in GeekBench running Android 6.0. They also report that A113 features the same four Cortex 53 cores, but has better audio capabilities with 8x PDM interfaces, and 16x I2S interfaces. I also found a page about a microphone array designed for Amlogic S905/S912/A112, and based on Knowles SPH0645LM4H-B miniature microphones .

Finally, I decided to go directly to Amlogic website, and they do have pages for A111 and A112 SoCs, strangely not indexed by search engines so far.

Amlogic A111 key features:

  • CPU – Quad-core ARM Cortex-A5
  • Audio Interface
    • 2-channel I2S input and output
    • TDM/PCM input and output, up to 8 channels
    • S/PDIF output
  • Video Interface – LVDS and MIPI-DSI panel output
  • Security – Supports secure boot and secure OS
  • Ethernet – 10/100/1000M MAC
  • IP License (Optional) – Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS Digital Surround, DTS HD, DTS Express
  • Process – 28nm HKMG

Amlogic A112 key features:

  • CPU – Quad-core ARM Cortex-A53
  • Audio Interface
    • 8-channel I2S and S/PDIF input and output
    • TDM/PCM input and output, up to 8 channels
    • 2-channel PDM input
  • Video Interface – RGB888 output
  • Security – Supports secure boot and secure OS
  • Ethernet – 10/100M MAC+PHY
  • IP License(Optional) – Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS Digital Surround, DTS HD, DTS Express
  • Process – 28nm HKMG

If you are interested in evaluating / playing with those processors, and cannot get hold of Amlogic boards (since they only deal with companies), one solution is to get Xiaomi AI smart speaker available for pre-order/arrival notice on sites likes GearBest or GeekBuying, and expected to ship on October 1st.

Thanks to vertycall for the tip.

X-Powers AC108 is a Quad-Channel ADC Chip for Microphone Arrays

August 28th, 2017 2 comments

X-Powers, a company better known to supply PMIC “companion” chip for Allwinner processors, also made some audio chips including AC108 is a chip specifically designed for microphones arrays with support for 4 microphones, and a I2C + I2S output interface to the host processor. Microphone arrays are particularly useful for smartspeakers, and especially hot word detection (voice activity detection) as single microphone setups like I use with Orange Pi Zero, may have trouble detecting hot words like “OK Google” in noisy environments (music playing, alarm ringing…).

X-Power AC108 specifications:

  • 108 dB dynamic range (A-weighted) @ 0 dB boost gain
  • -90 dB THD+N (total harmonic distortion plus noise) @ 0 dB boost gain
  • 4x programmable boost amplifiers with 0dB to 45dB in 3dB step
  • ADC sample rates supported – 8kHz,12kHz,16kHz, 22.05kHz, 24kHz, 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz,96kHz
  • Analog mixer and digital mixer in record data path
  • 4x fully differential microphone inputs: MIC1P/N ~MIC4P/N configurable as pseudo differential,  single-ended mode, or digital MIC data pin
  • 4x low noise mic bias outputs: MIC1_BIAS~MIC4_BIAS with a 1.5V to 4V programmable bias voltage
  • 2x DMIC SCLK output @ 1M~3.25M
  • Two I2S data output configurable as
    • I2S/PCM format using 1 pin to output 2 channel data of 1 devices.
    • I2S/PCM format using 2  pins to output 4 channel data of 1 devices.
    • TDM format using 1 pin to output 4 even 16 channel data of 4  devices.
    • Encoding format using 1 pins to output 4 even 16 channel data of 4  devices.
  • DPLL support a wide input for 6-/12-MHz, 6.144-/12.288-MHz, 5.6448-/11.2896-MHz, 13MHz and 19.2MHz.
  • Control Interface – I2C / TWI from 100 kHz up to 400 kHz
  • Integrated LDO allowing single 3.3V supply
  • Power Consumption – < 4mA per ADC channel
  • Package – 48 pin, 6×6 mm2 QFN

The product page does not provides that much more information, but there’s apparently EVM which you can purchase by contacting the company.

Click to Enlarge

I could not find pricing information, but X-Powers normally provides price-competitive solutions. I could not find any boards using AC108 yet, but we should get more info about that tomorrow.

Categories: Audio, Hardware Tags: audio, automation, speaker, x-powers

Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 Boards – Intrinsyc Open-Q 212 and Kaynes Technology SKATE-212

July 7th, 2017 No comments

Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 (APQ8009) quad core Cortex A7 processor is used in entry-level smartphones, but it’s also one of the processors which the company expects to use in their Smart Speaker Platform leveraging Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and other A.I. voice services. Two company has designed single board computers that can be used for this purpose: Intrisync Open-Q 212 and Kaynes Technology SKATE-212.

Intrisync Open-Q 212 SBC Development Board

Contrary to some other Open-Q board, but not all, Open-Q 212 is not comprise of a baseboard and a system-on-module, as everything is soldered on a single PCB. Open-Q 212 specifications:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 (APQ8009) quad core ARM Cortex A7 processor @ 1.267GHz with Adreno 304 GPU, QDSP6 DSP
  • System Memory – 1GB LPDDR3
  • Storage – 8GB eMMC (non-POP) flash and micro SD card socket
  • Connectivity – Ethernet,  pre-scanned Wi-Fi 802.11n 2.4Ghz (WCN3610) with chip and U.FL antennas, Bluetooth 4.1 LE
  • Display – Up to 720p LCD; up to 720p HDMI Type A
  • Video Codec – [email protected] playback; up to 720p playback with H.264 (AVC) and H.265 (HVEC); up to 720p H.264 (AVC) capture
  • udio
    • WCD9326 audio codec
    • 4x microphone inputs
    • 2x amplified speaker outputs, 2x stereo line outputs
    • Qualcomm Fluence HD with Noise Cancellation, Qualcomm Snapdragon Voice Activation, Qualcomm Snapdragon Voice+
  • Cameras – Up to 8MP over 2-lane MIPI CSI
  • Misc – Serial,  RTC, I2S, GPIO, Sensor header
  • Power Supply
    • 12V/3A or single-cell Li-Ion battery
    • PMIC (PM8208) and Li-Ion battery support (SMB1357/STC3117)
  • Dimensions – 120mm x 120mm (Nano-ITX form factor)
  • Temperature Range – 0oC to +70oC

The board support Android 7 Nougat by default, but you’d have to give them call to ask for Linux support, and possibly pay some NRE fees.

Intrinsyc is not exactly known for their cheap development boards and SBCs, and while they call it a low cost board, it’s sold for $595 without LCD, microphones, and cameras, and with shipping scheduled for the end of July. You’ll find more info on the product page.

Kaynes Technology SKATE-212 SBC

Click to Enlarge

SKATE-212, made by an Indian embedded systems and manufacturing company, is likely to be quite cheaper, but I could not find any picture for now, only the block diagram above, and the specifications:

  • SoC –  Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 quad core Cortex A7 @ 1.3GHz with Adreno 304 GPU supporting OpenGL ES 3.0, OpenCL, DirectX
  • System Memory – 1 GB LPDDR3 (Expandable upto 2GB)
  • Storage – 8 GB eMMC flash (Expandable upto 16GB) +  micro SD slot
  • Video Output / Display  – 7″ capacitive touchscreen, full size HDMI port (Only one or the other can be used at a given time)
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi + Bluetooth 4.x LE, GPS with optional GLONASS support
  • USB – 1x micro USB device port (Can not be used at the same time as Ethernet, and other USB host ports), 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB debug console
  • Camera –  8 MP primary camera; 2MP secondary camera
  • Audio
    • Mono loudspeaker output
    • 3.5mm stereo audio jack with mic
    • On board single (default)or dual microphone
  • Sensors – 6-axis MEMS gyroscope & Accelerometer;3-axis Magnetometer
  • Power supply – 12VDC power adapter or optional 3.7V/2,500 mAh battery
  • Dimensions – 90 x 70 mm

The company explains the board is well suited for Android or Linux based applications for industrial, medical, IIoT, mission critical and surveillance verticals. The 7″ LCD display and 8MP OV8865 camera module will be sold as options.

Availability and price are not known at this stage. You may want visit the product page for a few more details, and possibly request more documents by email via the Documents tab on the page.

Intel Quark S1000 “Sue Creek” Processor to Support On-Chip Speech Recognition

June 19th, 2017 3 comments

Intel may have announced plans to discontinue several of their IoT boards, but based on some documents I received, the company has not given up on the Quark family, although they may have given up on the Intel architecture for low power microprocessor, as Intel Quark S1000 – codenamed “Sue Creek” – will feature two Tensilica LX6 cores (yes, just like ESP32), and is designed to handle speech recognition at the edge (e.g. locally), so some of your voice commands should still work when Internet is down.

Intel Quark S1000 key features and specifications:

  • Digital Signal Processors
    • Dual Tensilica LX6 cores @ 400 MHz with HiFi3 DSP
    • Single precision scalar floating-point instructions
    • 16KB 4-way I$; 48KB 4-way D$
    • Up to 2400 DMIPS, 3.2 GMACS (16×16), 800 MFLOPS of Compute
  • Speech Accelerators
    • A GMM (Gaussian Mixture Model) and neural network accelerator
    • Low power keyboard and limited vocabulary recognition
    • Up to 9.6 GMACS (16×16) of compute
  • Internal Memory
    • 4MB shared embedded SRAM
    • 64KB embedded SRAM for streaming samples in low power mode
  • External Memory Interfaces
    • Up to 8MB external 16-bit PSRAM
    • Up to 128MB external SPI flash
  •  I/O Interfaces
    • Host I/O – SPI for command and control, I2S for streaming audio, IRQ, reset, wake, optional USB 2.0 HS device
    • Microphone – I2S/TDM 9.6 MHz max. bit clock
    • Digital Microphone – 4 PDM ports 4.8 MHz max. bit clock
    • Speaker – I2S/TDM 9.6 MHz max. bit clock
    • Instrumentation – I2C master @ 100/400 MHz
    • Debug – UART Tx/Rx/RTS?CTS up to 2.4 Mbaud/s
    • GPIO – 10 mA sink/source, 8x PWM outputs
  • Power Management / Consumption
    • Low power idle (memory retention); voice activity detection; play through; full active
    • Clock and power gating support
    • < 20 mW voice activity detection
    • < 250 mW full active
  • Package (preliminary) – FCCSP132 7.45 x 8.3mm 0.6/0.7mm pitch staggered/orthogonal
  • Temperature Range – Commercial: 0 to 70 °C; industrial: -40 to +85 °C

The diagram above shows Quark S100 is supposed to be connected to a host processor providing network connectivity, getting commands over SPI, audio over I2S, and the Intel processor can handle some speech recognition likely for a limited subset of words, and use cloud based recognition for more complex requests. The solution could be used in product like Google Home or Amazon Echo look-a-likes, or other voice-controlled appliances.

I don’t know when the processor will be available, and I could not find any information online yet.

$97 MXQ HF10 Android Bluetooth Speaker & TV Box Works with Amazon Alexa

May 3rd, 2017 No comments

Last fall, I wrote about Eny Technology HF10, a 2-in-1 Android 6.0 TV box & Bluetooth speaker powered by Amlogic S905X processor, but at the time it was still under development, and we did not know all the features. The device has now been launched under the MXQ brand with support for Amazon Alexa voice service, and is up for pre-order for $96.55 on GearBest.

MXQ HF10 specifications:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S905X quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5 GHz with Mali-450MP GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 128 GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz
  • Audio
    • HDMI output
    • 2.5″ 10W mono bass speaker with class-D amplifier
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host port
  • Misc – Power & Play/Pause combo button, and volume buttons
  • Power Supply –  18W (may 12V/1.5A).
  • Dimensions – 9.10 cm ∅ x 12.80 cm (H)
  • Weight –  570 grams

    Click to Enlarge

The device runs Android 6.0, and you can control it with your smartphone using “MXQ app” which I could not find anywhere, but it may just be a web interface, as they mentioned it can be accessed from a web browser. You can also use your smartphone to play music to the spaker as you’d do with any other Bluetooth speakers. The provided Bluetooth remote control comes with a microphone button, which allows to talk to your box and get feedback through Amazon Alexa service. The device also ships with a power adapter, a HDMI cable, and a user manual in English.