Innovation

Raspberry Pi add-on lets you build your own AI assistant powered by Amazon, Google and Microsoft

Capable of picking up voice commands from 30 feet away, the Matrix Voice board shares some of the features that helped propel Amazon's Echo smart speaker to success.

gfjmrhhrbjasxcrwyj2b.png
Image: Matrix Labs

From next month, owners of the $35 Raspberry Pi will be able to build their own Amazon Echo-style board.

Capable of picking up voice commands from 30 feet away, the Matrix Voice add-on board for the Pi shares some of the features that helped propel Amazon's Echo smart speaker to success.

The board uses seven MEMs microphones, the same number found on the Echo, and various technologies to improve quality of voice detection, such as far-field voice capture, beamforming and noise suppression.

The board can not only send queries to the same Amazon Alexa smart assistant that powers the Echo, but can also route commands to the various speech and language systems available via Google Voice Service and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

Amazon Alexa already allows voice commands to control various appliances: from Roomba hoovers to Plex media servers, to play music via Spotify and call a Uber, as well as to place orders with Amazon.

However, the Matrix Voice's ability to plug into multiple voice services extends it use, with the board's creators Matrix Labs showing it being used to switch Philips Hue lights on and off and change their color, using the speech recognition system PocketSphinx.

The circular Matrix Voice board is about 3.14- or Pi-inches in diameter and plugs directly into the Pi via its 40-pin GPIO header.

Building a DIY Amazon Echo will take a bit of effort and some additional investment. You'll need a Raspberry Pi and before the board can be used with Amazon Alexa, the necessary software libraries will need to be downloaded and set up on the Pi, as outlined here. You'll also need to add an external speaker to get spoken responses. Alexa may also not be quite as quick to respond to queries as it is via the Echo, if this demo using the Matrix Creator, the board that preceded the Voice, is indicative of performance.

SEE: Hardware spotlight: The Raspberry Pi

The board is primarily aimed at developers who want an affordable way to create voice-based applications.

Developers can write their own voice-controlled apps using the Matrix software libraries and tools. Node.js JavaScript can be used to interact with the the high-level APIs for the Voice's mics, sensors and other components. Those who want to finer grained control can directly program the Voice's XC6SLX4 Field Programmable Gate Array or use C++ to interface with the board's Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL).

The $55 Matrix Voice board is a simplified, voice-focused version of the Matrix Creator IoT board, that Matrix Labs shipped last year, and which recently became available via Premier Farnell. There is also a $65 standalone version of the Matrix Voice board, which doesn't require a Pi to work, and includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, and a microcontroller.

An $105 Voice Kit includes the Matrix Voice board, a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, a 5V 2.5A power supply, and a 8GB MicroSD card.

Matrix Labs says it expects the Matrix Voice to ship from the end of August.

Matrix Voice Kit specs and comparison

matrix-voice-competitive-analysis.png
Image: Matrix Labs

Read more about the Raspberry Pi

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox