Chipmaker aims to help free Amazon's Alexa from the power cord

(Reuters) - Amazon Inc’s Alexa voice assistant started out in Amazon’s own Echo speakers but is spreading fast, embedded directly inside products from other companies such as light fixtures, thermostats and dashboard cameras for cars.

FILE PHOTO - Prompts on how to use Amazon's Alexa personal assistant are seen in an Amazon "experience centre" in Vallejo, California, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

But one place Alexa often cannot be found is too far from a power outlet. The “always on” microphones that listen for the assistant’s name, plus an internet connection, require so much electricity that Alexa-enabled devices usually need to be plugged in.

Milpitas, California-based chipmaker DSP Group Inc on Thursday said it has partnered up with Amazon to try to change that. The company is offering a standardized chip that is a little smaller than a U.S. 10-cent coin that gadget makers can use to embed Alexa into their own device.

DSP is not the only entrant in the race. Though its Alexa Voice Services division, Amazon has been working with a broad range of chipmakers to offer gadget makers an easy way to embed Alexa in their hardware - Intel Corp, Qualcomm Inc and Cirrus Logic Inc, among others, all offer chips that will put Alexa inside a gadget.

But DSP is hoping to compete on low power consumption, said Chief Executive Ofer Elyakim. It has designed its chip for use in smart watches, smart glasses and other tiny devices where space and batteries are at a premium.

“If you want to add voice as a user interface to such a device, you have to have a very, very low power consumption,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Such devices are key to DSP’s future. The company’s legacy business supplying chips to cordless phones still made up half of its $28.1 million in revenue in its most recent quarter, but that market is shrinking as landline telephones disappear.

While DSP’s chips for embedding voice features in gadgets make up only 6 percent of its revenue, DSP has won some notable customers, with chips in smart watches and phones from Samsung Electronics Co, one of GoPro Inc’s recent cameras and a wireless speaker from Logitech International SA.

Those are all large companies with many engineers, but by working with Amazon to make its chip easier to use in a device, DSP is hoping to spur more products from gadget makers of all sizes to include Alexa, Elyakim said.

“We are at a fairly early level in this market, but I think over the next 12 months we’ll see a lot of announcements,” he said.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker