Voice-enabled products breakthrough triggered by Bristol tech innovators

October 6, 2017

Pioneering Bristol tech firm XMOS has developed world-leading technology which could lead to a new generation of voice-enabled consumer products.

The firm, which last month received $15m (£11.4m) in an investment round led by German semiconductor manufacturer Infineon, has become the first European chip company to release technology to vastly improve Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service. 

While voice-enabled technology is becoming popular, it can be hampered by background noise. That means the units have to be placed directly in front of users, often on coffee tables or worktops.

But XMOS’s development, which combines the radar normally used in cars with microphones, means the technology can be incorporated into other devices, which can then be put on shelves or walls.

Tech media said XMOS is now the first company in the world with an AVS-qualified “far-field linear mic array”.

XMOS, which employs 50 people, is also the smallest firm to achieve this qualification, pitching it against multi-billion dollar companies.

XMOS was co-founded by David May, University of Bristol’s Professor of Computer Science and one of the industry’s leading figures, pictured. He was part of a group of microchip pioneers who helped make Bristol a hub for the industry, having arrived in the city as part of the team behind the State-owned Inmos in the 1970s.

The latest funding round has taken total venture capital funding into XMOS to $72m. As we’ll as Infineon, finance came from existing investors Amadeus Capital Partners, Draper Esprit, Foundation Capital and Robert Bosch Venture Capital.

XMOS CEO Mark Lippett said: “XMOS is ideally positioned at the crossover between embedded voice processing, biometrics and artificial intelligence, and the funds will enable us to execute our ambitious product development plans.

“I am particularly delighted to welcome Infineon Technologies as a strategic investor in the business. We have worked closely with the Infineon team on groundbreaking sensor fusion technologies; the investment really strengthens our strategic partnership.”

Infineon ‎division president power management & multimarket Andreas Urschitz added: “Through this investment, Infineon will further explore the high potential of voice control and is well positioned to address future use cases like speaker authentication or contextual awareness. This was the logical next step, as we have identified HMI as a strategic growth area.”

In 2014 Bristol microchip design pioneer XMOS received a $26.2m (£15.3m) investment from a group of international technology businesses which include Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant.

It is understood to have beeen the largest single Chinese investment in a British firm at that stage.

XMOS makes highly-advanced multicore microcontrollers for the type of next-generation devices that will play key roles in the ‘internet of things’ – the powerful technology which will connect devices and revolutionise everything from healthcare to personal communications.

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