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Synaptics Pairs Ears With Brains

March 5, 2019

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Partly to protect privacy, and partly to reduce network latency, the newest embedded processors for smart speakers and other voice-activated devices are adding AI acceleration to offload speech recognition from the servers at distant data centers. After listening closely to this growing customer base, Synaptics is sampling its new AudioSmart AS-3xx SoCs for voice assistants.

The first version to arrive is the AS-371, which began sampling in January. Three derivatives are slated to sample this month; all should begin production this year. The AS-371 has four Arm Cortex-A53 CPUs for application software, a proprietary security processor, and a proprietary neural-network engine for speech recognition. Three models add a low-power Cortex-M33 core for always-on wake-word awareness but replace the neural engine with a Cadence Tensilica HiFi 4 DSP. The low-end model substitutes a single Cortex-M33 for the Cortex-A53s in the other chips; the M33 is a low-power controller that runs a small RTOS instead of Linux or Android.

Some Google Home products already employ Synaptics SoCs, and Microsoft’s Cortana smart speaker has a Synaptics AudioSmart DSP for far-field voice recognition. So does Netgear’s Orbi Voice, a smart speaker that features Amazon Alexa voice control. It can pair with the Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi System, an 802.11ac router with repeaters that extend the network’s range throughout a large house or office.

All these products have Synaptics chips that are less integrated than the AS-371. It can combine the Wi-Fi repeater and smart-speaker functions in one device by adding an 802.11 radio attached to its PCI Express interfaces. As an established supplier of voice DSPs and controllers for touchpads and fingerprint sensors, Synaptics is a logical choice for advanced user interfaces.

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