MEMS microphones set to provide the foundation for voice-enabled homes

The DIRHA project has been set up to address the challenge of distant speech interaction in multi-noise, multi-speaker situations of a home environment. The goal is to create a pervasive, always-listening sound space, where users needn’t speak into the microphone to get recognized and understood, but the system reaches out, acoustically, to the speakers regardless of their position within the home.

ST’s MEMS microphone and audio processing technologies fit the challenging requirements of distant-speech interaction systems. The small form factor allows the researchers to embed entire arrays of microphones in the walls, desks, or speech-enabled appliances of the automated home, while the microphones’ acoustic characteristics, coupled with sophisticated signal-processing technologies, will make it possible to identify and capture an individual speaker from several meters away, in a crowded room with music playing.

The distant-speech interaction capability will not only dramatically change the way people interact with technology, but can make a real difference for those who can’t easily move around, such as the elderly or the motor-impaired. In addition to the home scenarios, the distant-speech interaction systems can find use in robotics, telepresence, surveillance and industry automation.

The DIRHA program has been organised into a number of work packages, spanning a total duration of 36 months, and the total cost of the project is 4.8 million euros. The main fields of research include multi-channel acoustic processing, distant-speech recognition and understanding, speaker identification/verification, and spoken-dialogue management in four languages – German, Greek, Italian and Portuguese. The final prototypes will be integrated in pilot households and evaluated by real users.

Participants in the project include: Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Italy (project coordinator); Athena Research and Innovation Center in Information Communication & Knowledge Technologies, Greece; DomoticArea, Italy; INESC ID – Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computatores, Investigacae e Desenvolvimento em Lisboa, Portugal; NewAmuser, Italy; STMicroelectronics, Italy; and Technische Universitaet Graz, Austria.

STMicroelectronics

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