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Hackable voice-controlled speaker and IoT controller hits KS

Aug 23, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 2,910 views

SeedStudio’s hackable, $49 and up “ReSpeaker” speaker system runs OpenWrt on a Mediatek MT7688 and offers voice control over home appliances.

The ReSpeaker went live on Kickstarter today and has already reached 95 percent of its $40,000 funding goal with 29 days remaining. The device is billed by SeedStudio as an “open source, modular voice interface that allows us to hack things around us, just using our voices.” While it can be used as an Internet media player or a voice-activated IoT hub — especially when integrated with Seeed’s Wio Link IoT board — it’s designed to be paired with individual devices. For example, the campaign’s video shows the ReSpeaker being tucked inside a teddy bear or toy robot, or attached to plant, enabling voice control and voice synthesis. Yes, the plant actually asks to be watered.

ReSpeaker Core board (left) and Mic Array board
(click images to enlarge)

Early bird Kickstarter packages start at $49 for the ReSpeaker Core board alone, or $89 when coupled either with a microphone array board or a Grove extension board with various kits that use Seeed’s Wio Link. A $139 early bird option adds a Meow speaker system that also houses the other PCB boards (see farther below). Additional packages offers discounted bundles or different mixes of the above add-ons. The campaign extends to Sep. 22, with shipments due in November.

ReSpeaker Core board with Mic Array add-on on top, in exploded (left) and attached views
(click image to enlarge)

The ReSpeaker provides a lightweight speech recognition engine called the PocketSphinx for offline use, backed up with microSD storage for storing vocabulary and audio files. It also supports cloud-based voice services including Microsoft Cognitive Service, Amazon Alexa Voice Service, Google Speech API,, and Houndify.

ReSpeaker with Mic Array add-on board on top and a connected speaker
(click image to enlarge)

ReSpeaker supports Airplay and DLNA media rendering protocols for wireless music streaming. All you need to do is hook up an ordinary speaker to it using an AUX cable. One easy way to accomplish this is with the campaign’s Meow King Drive Unit package, which attaches to the bottom of the ReSpeaker and encloses it. Other add-ons include the Mic Array board for enabling voice control from across the room, and SeedStudio’s Grove extension board.

A web-based, mobile-ready app controls the device over WiFi and offers built-in music streaming, file manager, plug-in, and customizable settings applications. The open source, OpenWrt SDK supports Python development, and ReSpeaker also supports C/C++, JavaScript, Lua, and even the Arduino IDE. An plugins framework will support future apps developed in Python, including user-generated apps, all of which will be freely shared via the web app.

The PCB designs appear to be open source as well, although there are no details on licensing or schematics availability. Seeed does say that “ReSpeaker has a highly customizable appearance and limitless DIY possibilities.” The company goes on to note that “You can wrap it up with your own remarkable designs based on 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC or injection molding.” Users can also contract with the Seeed Fusion Prototyping Service for small batch production up to 10K pieces.

Inside the ReSpeaker

The ReSpeaker runs OpenWrt Linux on a 580MHz, MIPS-based Mediatek MT7688 system-on-chip, which includes 802.11b/g and 802.11n WiFi radios. The MT7688 appears to be the preferred choice these days among OpenWrt developers over the similar Qualcomm Atheros AR9331. You can find it on Onion’s popular new Omega2 and MediaTek’s Linkit Smart 7688 SBCs.

ReSpeaker core front (left) and back details
(click images to enlarge)

The round, 70mm-diameter mainboard PCB runs on 5V DC input, and offers a microSD slot, a micro-USB port, and a 3.5mm audio jack. There are also expansion headers for I2C, GPIO, and USB 2.0.

The device integrates an ATMega32U4 MCU for Arduino IDE compatibility. This controls a USB CDC virtual COM port for SSH, as well as 12x programmable LEDs and 8x touch sensors. There are also three pushbuttons.

The PCB is further equipped with a Wolfson WM8960 audio codec with 40mW output. The codec supports DAC SNR 98dB (“A-weighted”) with THD -84dB, as well as ADC SNR 94dB (“A-weighted”) with THD -82dB, both at 48kHz, 3.3V.

Mic Array (left) and Grove Extension detail views
(click images to enlarge)

The optional, similarly 70mm, Mic Array PCB is based on the XVSM-2000 Smart Microphone from XMOS. In addition to providing far-field voice capture, the Mic Array offers acoustic source localization, beamforming, noise suppression, de-reverberation, and acoustic echo cancellation

The Mic Array includes a 16-core MCU that drives the 7x ST MP34DT01-M PDM microphones. The digital mics feature 61dB SNR, -26 dBFS omnidirectional sensitivity, and a 20 dBSPL acoustic overload.

The Mic Array board is further equipped with a 3.5mm audio out jack. It draws 5C DC from the mainboard’s micro-USB or expansion header.

The 70mm Grove Extension add-on board provides a pair of onboard expansion headers. The board provides 2x I2S, 3x DIO, 4x analog I/O, and 2x I2C, plus AUX, USB 2.0, GPIOs, and other interfaces. There are also 12x LEDs, and 10x ports that connect to to SeeedStudio’s Grove sensor and I/O modules.

Meow King Drive Unit detail view
(click image to enlarge)

The optional, 40mm diameter Meow King Drive Unit has a 5W speaker with 85Hz to 20kHz frequency range. The speaker provides 4Ω impedance, a 75dBA+ SNR, 550 ± 50mV sensitivity, and less than 0.5 percent distortion. The unit pulls 5V power via micro-USB or an apparently built-in 3.7V, 1500mAh battery.

The ReSpeaker is designed to be compatible with SeeedStudio’s Wio Link IoT development board, as well as the subsequent Wio Node and Wio Core products. “Simply pair your ReSpeaker to your Wio product using our Web App, then you can have a voice interaction with any of your IoT devices that is built on Wio,” says SeeedStudio

Wio Link detail view
(click image to enlarge)

The Grove-compatible Wio Link runs RESTful APIs and IFTT scripts via a web/mobile app, and can alternatively be programmed with the Arduino IDE. The Wio Link uses Espressif’s open source, Arduino compatible ESP8266 WiFi Module.


ReSpeaker — An Open Modular Voice Interface to Hack Things

Further information

SeeedStudio’s ReSpeaker is available on Kickstarter, starting at $49, or $89 with Mic Array, through Sep. 22. Shipments are due in November except for packages with the Meow speaker, which ship in January. More information may be found at the ReSpeaker Kickstarter page.

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