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Android Things and Google Assistant appear in new smart speakers, smart displays, and modules

Jan 9, 2018 — by Eric Brown — 657 views
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Google announced third-party products that run Android Things, Google Assistant, and Cast, including smart speakers from LG and iHome. There are also embedded modules from Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Rockchip that will drive speakers and smart displays from JBL, Lenovo, Sony, and others.

Google has avoided the CES show in recent years, but has shown up big in 2018 to counter-attack Amazon’s voice assistant juggernaut Alexa with news about its rival, second place Google Assistant agent. We’ll focus here on new products that combine the Assistant voice agent with Google’s lightweight Android Things distribution. These include the LG ThinQ WK7 and iHome iGV1 smart speakers, and three new computer-on-modules: the Qualcomm SD212 Home Hub Platform, MediaTek MT8516, and Rockchip RK3229 SoM. The modules will drive speaker and smart displays from JBL, Lenovo, LG, and Sony, as well as smart speaker reference designs from three ODMs: Tymphany, Goertek, and Tonly.




Upper row: LG ThinQ WK7, iHome iGV1, InstaView ThinQ, and ThinQ Google Assistant Touch Screen Speaker; lower row: iHome iGV1 and Lenovo Smart Display
(click images to enlarge)

Alexa, which is integrated in Amazon’s popular Echo smart speaker products, is even more pervasive at CES in 2018 than it was last year. It is appearing in dozens of new home automation and entertainment products, many of which run Linux or Android, as well as numerous Windows laptops. Its dominance has already caused Microsoft to scale back its plans for its Cortana agent, and strike a deal in which the Microsoft Outlook integrated Cortana can communicate and coexist with Alexa.

Google, however, is waging all out war with Amazon, playing an underdog role for the first time since the early days of Android. Google announced that Assistant is now in 400 million devices, and is coming to new voice-activated speakers from Altec Lansing, Anker Innovations, Bang & Olufsen, Braven, JBL, Jensen, Klipsch, Knit Audio, Memorex, RIVA Audio, and SōLIS, in addition to the Android Things products mentioned above.

This year, Google is bringing Assistant to Android Auto, which is shipping on 400 automotive models and more than 40 brands. Assistant is already available for Android TV, and this year will be added to existing Android TVs from AirTV Player, Bouygues Telecom, LG U+, TCL, Skyworth, and Xiaomi.


PICO-PI-IMX7

Despite its Developer Preview status, Android Things, which is based on the earlier Brillo, has already appeared on a number of modules and SBCs. It’s available on the NXP i.MX6 UL based PICO-IMX6UL-KIT and i.MX7-based PICO-PI-IMX7 — two open-spec SBCs from Technexion and its Wandboard.org community which appeared in this week’s LinuxGizmos guide to 103 hacker boards. Android Things-ready COMs (computer-on-modules) include Murata’s Aquila 6UL and Nutsboard.org’s Almond.

 
Android Things smart speakers: LG ThinQ WK7 and iHome iGV1

Google has previously announced Android Things support for Assistant, and now we’re seeing the first consumer electronics products based on the combination. The highlights are the LG ThinQ WK7 and iHome iGV1 smart speakers, as well as the Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant (see farther below).

The LG ThinQ WK7 and iHome iGV1 smart speakers both integrate Assistant and the “Cast” technology borrowed from the Chromecast media player. The LG ThinQ WK7 also supports LG’s revamped, mobile-connected SmarThinQ home automation and consumer electronics interoperability platform, which was announced a year ago. The SmarThinQ technology will appear in all of LG’s 2018 Smart TVs, refrigerators and other high-end gizmos, most of which run the Linux-based WebOS. SmarThinQ integrates LG’s homegrown “DeepThinQ” AI technology, which is said to enable the devices to more intelligently communicate with each other.



LG ThinQ WK7 (left) and LG InstaView ThinQ smart refrigerator
(click images to enlarge)

SmarThinQ is also showcased in other LG CE products unveiled this week at CES, including the newly announced, WebOS-based InstaView ThinQ smart refrigerator, which has a 29-inch touchscreen. Knock twice, and you can see inside to inspect your groceries.

As with most new products unveiled at CES, there are few details about the voice-activated LG ThinQ WK7. The key difference with the Assistant-enabled Google Home smart speaker is that it boosts audio quality with 24-bit, 192kHz high-res audio and 24-bit up-sampling. The audio is said to be “tuned” with Meridian Audio technology.



LG ThinQ Google Assistant Touch Screen Speaker
(click image to enlarge)

LG’s smart speaker page also includes another barebones product page for its “coming soon” LG ThinQ Google Assistant Touch Screen Speaker. The device, which also includes Assistant, Chromecast, SmarThinQ, and Meridian Audio technologies, provides an 8-inch touchscreen and front facing camera. Google did not mention it in its Android Things announcement, however.

There were more details on the iHome iGV1 smart alarm clock/speaker combo, which looks much like Google Home. Built by home automation focused iHome, a division of SDI Technologies, the voice-activated device won a CES 2018 Innovation Award, and is “coming soon” at an undisclosed price.



iHome iGV1
(click image to enlarge)

The iHome iGV1 has a dimmable alarm display, and supports Google Assistant compatible home automation devices, as well as iHome’s SmartPlug smart lighting products. The WiFi and Bluetooth enabled device supports major music streaming services, and offers Google Cast support for streaming music from phones. A 1-Amp USB port supports cellphone recharging.

 
Lenovo Smart Display and Qualcomm SD624 Home Hub Platform

At CES, Google is showcasing the first Android Things/Google Assistant based product with touchscreen support. The Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant has already received a number of positive hands-on stories, including this Android Central report that claims it outclasses the disappointing, touchscreen enabled Amazon Echo Show.

Available early this summer in 8- ($200) and 10-inch ($250) touchscreen models, both with 10-Watt speakers and a mic array, the device will ship in grey or bamboo colors. The voice-activated device can be positioned vertically or horizontally thanks to an interesting wedge-shaped stand. There’s also a digital photo frame feature and a front-facing camera that supports the Google Duo video calling app.



Lenovo Smart Display

Like two other unnamed, upcoming Android Things/Assistant driven smart displays coming from JBL and LG, the Lenovo Smart Display is built around a new Intrinsyc-built COM called the Qualcomm SDA624 Home Hub Platform (see Qualcomm press release).

The Qualcomm SDA624 Home Hub Platform features a new, undocumented Qualcomm SDA624 SoC on an SDA624 SoM module. There’s also a related, but lower-end, Qualcomm SDA212 Home Hub Platform with a documented SDA212 SoC. The SDA212 is a 1.3GHz quad-core, Cortex-A7 SoC with a Qualcomm Adreno 304 GPU and Hexagon 536 DSP. The Qualcomm SDA212 Home Hub Platform lacks the SDA624 model’s support for Cast, Google Duo video calling, and Google maps that are available on the SDA624 SoM’s 1.8GHz octa-core, Cortex-A53 SoC with Adreno 506 GPU and Hexagon 546 DSP.

Both Qualcomm modules support Android Things, Assistant, and other Google technologies. They feature built-in Qualcomm QCA9379 wireless chips with 802.11ac 2×2 MU-MIMO and Bluetooth. Both incorporate echo-cancellation, noise suppression, and a “barge-in” capability that enables Google Assistant to understand voices in noisy environments. The modules will be available from Intrinsyc in the first quarter, and the SDA624 model will also be sold by Lite-On Technology.

 
MediaTek MT8173 SoM and Rockchip RK3229 SoM

Also in the works is an Android Things smart display from Sony that is built around a yet to be announced MediaTek MT8173 SoM. This in turn is based on MediaTek’s quad-core MT8173. The SoC offers 2x -A53 and 2x -A72 cores up to 2.0GHz, and a PowerVR GX6250 GPU.

This week, Rockchip announced a Rockchip RK3229 SoM, billed as an “Android Things Turnkey Solution.” The module is built around the Rockchip RK3229, a quad -A7 set-top box SoC announced in 2016 that has yet to make an appearance on LinuxGizmos. The SoC has a Mali-400 MP2 GPU, and supports HDMI 2.0 at up to 4K resolution.

The Qualcomm SD212 Home Hub Platform, MediaTek MT8516, and Rockchip RK3229 SoM will appear in Android Things/Assistant based smart speaker reference designs from Tymphany, Goertek, and Tonly, says Google. The company did not say which ODM will use which module, and we saw no clues on the three companies’ websites.




Google Assistant on smart displays infomercial

 
Further information

As noted, most of the new crop of Android Things products will ship later this year. More information may be found in the links above, as well as at Google’s Android Things with Google Assistant announcement.
 

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