"Belay that order!" That, in so many words, is the familiar cry of a misunderstood smart device command in 2019. But those troubles could be coming to an end thanks to a new generation of small, incredibly sensitive low-power microphone arrays.
For the second year running, a company called Vesper, which makes piezoelectric microphones, has been named a CES Best of Innovation Honoree by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). This time the award was given for Vesper's VM2020 microphone, which will be commercially available for smart home devices by mid-2019.
The honor comes at an auspicious moment for Vesper, which just announced that its piezoelectric MEMS microphones will be embedded in a voice-activated trash can from luxury housewares designer simplehuman. Three of Vesper's piezoelectric MEMS microphones triangulate sound for far-field voice recognition accuracy, even in loud, busy environments.
"Battery-powered electronic devices are everywhere," said Vesper CEO Matt Crowley. "The problem is that consumers still need to activate them using touch. By partnering with simplehuman, we're removing physical contact with kitchen gadgets, redefining the concept of the smart home as we know it. Embedding Vesper's microphones in a such a core component of human life – the trash can – is further proof that voice-interface devices are practical in any environment and can make our everyday lives easier."
The microphones are a perfect match for the ignominious duties of a kitchen trashcan. Small, simple, and tough, they can survive contact with substances like water, oil, beer, and dust. Since piezoelectric technology consumes almost no power until turned on via a wake-word, they're also conducive to battery operated smart devices that would be inconvenient to plug in.
The mics are assisted by a voice processing technology called DSP Group's SmartVoice, powered by HDClear, which eliminates background noise and enhances voice quality. It's a good example of the one-two hardware-software punch enabling smart IoT for the home.
Vesper is backed by $46 million in funding. Given the rapid march of IoT into our lives, low-power acoustic sensors will be in high demand in years ahead.
"Smart trash cans are just the beginning," a company spokesperson told me via email, "as the company's award-winning microphones that fundamentally transform voice-powered devices will be included in smart security cameras, voice-activated TV remotes, smart speakers, animal GPS trackers, and more."