Amazon is once again throwing its hat into a new ring. The market heavyweight wants to start making its own artificial intelligence chips for its Echo speaker devices in an effort to better compete against Apple and Google, according to media reports.
Amazon is starting to design custom AI hardware to power future Echo devices and improve the quality and response time of its "Alexa" voice-controlled personal assistant technology, according to a report first published by The Information.
The move could help Amazon go head-to-head with rivals Apple and Google, which are already developing custom AI chips.
Apple relies on custom-built chips from the likes of ARM for some of its smart devices but has also started developing its own chips for the iPhone. Google, for its part, has been building its own Tensor Processing Units (TPUs), the company’s custom chips for running machine learning workloads, for years.
Because of the complex nature of AI tasks, devices like smart home products often require custom-designed chips within the device, as well as within the custom-designed servers that develop AI algorithms. Amazon reportedly wants to build its own AI chips so that its Echo product, powered by Alexa, can do more on-device processing rather than having to send requests to the cloud for slower processing.
Apple's smart speaker HomePod, powered by personal assistant technology Siri, is impressive because it can decode user instructions even while playing music at full-volume. Amazon's smart speaker technology, the Echo, on the other hand, struggles to filter out noise, and that's where a custom-designed AI chip could help out, according to one AWS partner that asked not to be named.
However, if Amazon doesn't decide to build its custom chips, then the company will have to lean on a chip manufacturer to inject more intelligence into its technology, an executive for the solution provider said. "For sure, Amazon doesn’t have any custom computing in its edge devices, so their path forward would probably be to license something from [a chip designer such as] ARM."
Amazon, according to the Information, has about 450 people on staff with chip expertise, thanks to some recent hires and several acquisitions, including its $350 million purchase of Israeli chipmaker Annapurna Labs in 2015, and Blink, a startup that specialized in connected cameras and doorbells that Amazon nabbed in 2017.
Google on Monday announced plans to allow other companies and outside developers to buy access to its TPU chips through Google Cloud. The company hopes to build a new business the rental of its chips, which are available starting at $6.50 per unit per hour, according to Google.