“Hey Goosilexa, can I go swimming?” Today, we receive synthetically spoken answers to questions aimed at helping to make our decisions easier. Increasingly, voice-based services infiltrate everyday lives. Major hardware and content providers such as Apple, Google and Amazon have long been growing their businesses with powerful personal voice assistants.
In 2016, Bragi, a startup based in Munich, launched The Dash, the first so-called “hearable,” sparking the evolution of the “Internet of Voice” with wireless earphones. Thanks to possible omnipresence in the ear, commodity services as well as personal assistance possibilities may soon become as commonplace as smartphones are today.
The idea of an Internet of Voice permanently worn in the ear is taking shape, paving the way for hearables to free themselves from accessory status as mere playback devices and move to claim the legacy of the smartphone. Privacy and data protection and reliable user identification are two factors key to ensuring acceptance. Requiring powerful edge computing for speech recognition, semantic processing and reading the “acoustic fingerprint” are necessary to support these factors.
Much like a personal firewall, users should ultimately set their own rules regulating which spoken content is released into the cloud and which is restricted to local use in the hearable. The energy requirements of the hearables are therefore determined by radio interfaces and audio processors. It is clear that energy-efficient components are needed to ensure the maximum desired runtime. Because the human ear naturally provides very limited space for a battery, components must operate at the lowest possible energy budgets.
Together with the Brandenburg Technical Universtiy Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU), scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) located in Dresden and Cottbus have developed a new, power-efficient acoustic transducer principle for in-ear speakers. This central core component has now been presented in detail for the first time in Nature Microsystems and Nanoengineering .