“Hey Siri” – Signal Processing in the Age of Automation

If you are old enough to remember a world without the internet, you also know that the idea of asking an electronic box on the kitchen counter for the day’s weather forecast was but a fanciful, futuristic dream at that time. How far we have come in what could now arguably be referred to as the ‘Age of Automation’.

Rock West Solutions, a California company heavily invested in big data applications, says that signal processing plays a significant role in the technologies that many of us now take for granted. For example, consider Apple’s wildly popular Siri. What is now possible with Siri and HomePod is only possible because of advanced signal processing capabilities.

Basics of Signal Processing

The signals used by personal assistant devices for voice commands are audio signals. But Rock West Solutions explains that signal processing goes beyond just audio. A signal consists of a stream of information collected by a sensor before being processed. Signals can consist of audio, video, or just about any other kind of digital data.

Companies like Rock West Solutions utilize signal processing to separate valuable data from ambient noise. Noise consists of all that extemporaneous data unnecessary to the application at hand. So for something like Siri, the noise in an audio signal could be anything – like background noise in a room, for example.

Signal processing uses a variety of filters and algorithms to figure out what is noise as opposed to the useful information in a given signal. That noise is then removed through a variety of means. The end result is a cleaner signal that can be utilized for a specific purpose.

Signal Processing and Siri

A good example of how signal processing is enhancing life in the age of automation is easily observed in Apple’s Siri technology. According to a December 3 (2018) article from MacRumors, the latest iteration of Siri on HomePod is the best one yet.

Apple is utilizing three signal processing technologies to make the HomePod device capable of doing some pretty impressive things:

  • Echo Cancellation – This technology cancels out echo so that the user’s voice can be clearly distinguished even when louder background noise is present.

  • Reverb Removal – This technology makes it easier for the HomePod to pick up human voices at a distance by eliminating reverberation tails. It essentially clarifies the sound of the human voice so that Siri can hear it better.

  • Noise Reduction – Apple uses noise reduction technology to do two things. First, it filters out background noise in order to give clarity to the voice. Second, it filters the human voice to provide more clarity when commands are given.

MacRumors says that the latest edition of HomePod uses a multi-channel signal processing system capable of exceptionally good performance in a variety of acoustic conditions. In simple terms, HomePod raises the bar for home automation.

Making the World More Automated

The point of this post is not to push HomePod or Siri. Rather, it is to demonstrate how signal processing is making the world ever more automated. Apple certainly has plenty of competition in the home automation market from companies like Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon. All of them are learning more about signal processing and how it can make their products even better.

The end result for consumers is better technology and increased automation. Finding information on the internet is now just a voice command away. That is impressive enough to those of us who didn’t even know an internet as children. Who knows how technologically advanced automation will eventually be?

Post Author: Heather Moors