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96Boards form factor voice control board has 3-mic array

Jan 28, 2019 — by Eric Brown — 493 views

Allwinner and Shenzhen Kepuhao have teamed up on a 96Boards CE Extended compatible “Hichips-Parrot” SBC for Alexa voice prototyping that runs Linux on a quad -A53 Allwinner R18 SoC and offers an external 3-mic array board.

We missed the Allwinner SoC-Only 3-Mic Far-Field Dev Kit (BPI-R18-AI) when it shipped for $129 earlier this year from Allwinner and Banana Pi SBC maker Sinovoip. Now Allwinner has teamed up with another Shenzhen-based company called Shenzhen Kepuhao Electronic Technology to release a similar 96Boards CE Extended form-factor alternative called the Hichips-Parrot. Both boards are promoted as official Allwinner developer boards for doing audio recognition on the Allwinner R18 SoC for Amazon’s Alexa Voice Services (AVS).



Hichips-Parrot (left) and earlier Allwinner SoC-Only 3-Mic Far-Field Dev Kit
(click images to enlarge)

The Hichips-Parrot, which competes with other open-spec Linux-based voice control SBCs such as the Rockchip RK3399-based, 6x mic array ReSpeaker Core v2.0 SBC, is cheaper that the original Allwinner SoC-Only 3-Mic Far-Field Dev Kit, selling for only $79.90. The lower price is due in part to having only 3x microphones on the tethered mic array board instead of 6x on the original. Yet, as the original’s name suggests, only three of the six mics are currently enabled, presumably awaiting a more powerful version of the GMEMS voice recognition algorithm.

The upshot is that the new board, which was first reported by CNXSoft, is not as “future proof” as Sinovoip’s original, but currently offers the same basic functionality. The new model is even more of a bargain when you consider it adds a microSD slot, a second USB 2.0 host port, and the usual 96Boards 40-pin low-speed and 60-pin high-speed expansion connectors.



Hichips-Parrot rear view (left) and Allwinner R18 block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The Hichips-Parrot features an audio front end for beamforming, noise reduction, and echo cancellation. It ships with a sensory wake word engine tuned to “Alexa,” as well as a client application built with the AVS Device SDK. The board runs Tina Linux, which is also available on other Allwinner based Banana Pi boards.

The Allwinner R18, which is used by the Pine A64-LTS SBC, is almost identical to the Allwinner A64, with 4x Cortex-A53 cores at 1.2GHz and a Mali-400 MP2 GPU. However, it appears to integrate a more powerful audio codec. Like the RK3399 on the latest ReSpeaker board, the R18 permits voice control devices that do not require the addition of a DSP to perform voice processing.

The larger, 100 x 85mm Extended version of the 96Boards CE spec supports an optional second 60-pin high-speed connector, but it does not appear to be implemented here. Other CE Extended boards include the DragonBoard 820 and HiKey 970.

Like Sinovoip’s version, the Hichips-Parrot ships with 1GB DDR3 and 8GB eMMC and integrates dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. Other features include the dual USB 2.0 host ports, a micro-USB OTG port, an HDMI port, and an audio jack.



Hichips-Parrot mic array board from both sides
(click images to enlarge)

The mic-array board is connected by a supplied ribbon cable and offers three analog mics and dual AEC chips. The kit also ships with a pair of generic box speakers.

The Hichips-Parrot has received official support from 96Boards.org, so presumably we’ll eventually see full specs and schematics. Right now, the details are less than comprehensive.

Preliminary specifications listed for the Hichips-Parrot SBC include:

  • Processor — Allwinner R18 (4x Cortex-A53 cores @ up to 1.15GHz); Mali-400 MP2 GPU
  • RAM — 1GB DDR3
  • Storage — 8GB eMMC; microSD slot
  • Wireless — Dual-band WiFi and and Bluetooth 4.0
  • Other I/O:
    • HDMI port
    • 2x USB 2.0 host ports
    • Micro-USB 2.0 OTG port
    • 3.5mm audio output jack
    • 3-mic array board with 2x AEC
  • Expansion — 96Boards CE 40-pin LS and 60-pin HS connectors
  • Power — 12V DC input
  • Dimensions — 100 x 85mm with 104 x 90mm circular mic array board
  • Operating system — Tina Linux

 
Further information

The Hichips-Parrot is available for $79.90, but can only be purchased in lots of 10 boards. More information may be found on the 96Boards Hichip-Parrot page and the Alibaba and Chinese language 1688 shopping pages.
 

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