Audio and Voice Play Key Roles at CES 2015

January 12, 2015
By: Doug Mohney

Among the unmanned drones, wearable devices, and connected everything (home, car, pet, child, head) stocking up the aisles of CES 2015, voice and audio were on the show floor and in off-site meeting rooms all around Las Vegas. People want more from their earbuds and headsets—to be able to talk to home devices rather than being heads-down in an app all the time.

Conexant Systems (News - Alert) joined the "We can do software as well as silicon" movement this year at CES. Company officials said developers and manufacturers want access to Conexant's AudioSmart voice processing software without having to buy dedicated silicon, so it is now available on Linux platforms for smart home applications.

Designers may already have enough CPU power in existing devices and simply need Conexant technology to enable voice control for speaker systems and smart home control systems. The company started out a few years ago building a solution for SmartTV voice control and has now expanded its application to pretty much consumer electronic device you might want to control by speaking to it.  

One Conexant technology application which will show up in Unified Communications (News - Alert) soon is the boomless headset. Turtle Beach is already shipping a boomless headset for gamers, the Ear Force i30, using multiple microphones embedded on the outside face of the headset and Conexant software to filter out background noise and isolate the speaker's voice for phone calls and video chat—or just talking trash when playing Halo. I can see boomless headsets being a big advantage in a video-based WebRTC workplace, where people will want to clearly see faces.

Nuance (News - Alert) Communications took its Dragon speech recognition platform and put it in the automobile, unveiling the Dragon Drive platform. Dragon Drive includes voice biometrics to identify who is driving and uses the ID to provide a customized assistant under the hood, with driver preferences set for music stations, navigation routes, and plenty of other areas. A Dragon Drive Daily Update can be customized to start as soon as the drive starts the car. Daily Update can provide the driver with the anticipated commute time to work, the day's weather, previous night's sports scores, traffic updates, news headlines, and calendar updates, all delivered in a "humanlike voice" via Nuance's text-to-speech engine. The driver can focus on the road while getting the latest information.

Wearables and apps are also big for Nuance these days. The company showcased's i.amPULS smartband, Samsung Gear S wearable and Samsung Gear Circle headset, all incorporating Nuance voice recognition software. Domino's Pizza's "Dom" app also got a shoutout for increasing Domino's Pizza sales through the use of Nuance voice recognition technology.

The world of 3D sound also got a lot of promotion. Fraunhofer (News - Alert) demonstrated Cingo's 3D sound capabilities incorporated into the Samsung Gear VR head-mounted display. Cingo is already in all Google Nexus phones and tablets, so no big surprise.

Several startups were plugging proprietary immersive 3D sound formats for enhancing movie playback in the home theatre and on device headphones. Auro Technologies and 3D Sound Labs, both European companies, had demonstrations to show they could outdo Dolby Digital 5.1. France-based 3D Sound labs incorporated MEMS tech into its Neoh headphones to follow the movements of your head as you watch. Turn your head away from the screen and the sound virtually "stays put," changing as your ears move. 

Manufacturers are also rolling in other features to headsets and earbuds. Plantronics (News - Alert) released Wearable Concept 2 (WCS), a developer's prototype platform incorporating an always-on low-power mode for hands-free voice commands, enhanced motion-tracking capabilities, and an NXP A700x secure authentication microcontroller. A baseline Plantronics headset could one day evolve to a device capable of providing another "factor" of authentication for access to the corporate network, a pointing device in combination with a telepresence camera, and even a wearable sensor for the elderly that could provide health awareness and accident alert data.  

Way too many manufacturers are rushing to put heart-rate sensors into earbuds. One person I spoke with noted the challenge in getting a proper beats-per-minute reading from something bouncing up and down and in and out of an ear canal, suggesting winners in the category may go with more secure soft-clamp ear lobe-located sensor. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle