Two former Control4 executives, Glen Mella and John Yoon, are involved in a new Salt Lake City-based company, Cypher Corp., that claims to have perfected mobile communications.
In demo after demo, you can hear a clear human voice bereft of noise from Humvees, battlefields, construction sites and New York City traffic. Mella, formerly president and COO of Control4, co-founded Cypher; Yoon (formerly VP marketing for Control4) was brought on to run product development.
Yoon says the magic of the technology is: “We don’t focus on noise. We focus on human speech.”
Rather than noise cancellation, Cypher works on “speech extraction.”
Yoon explains, “There are certain aspects of speech that only humans can make, not machines.”
He says others working on voice clarity tend to be audio-centric, whereas Cypher is all about the algorithms.
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The engineers at Cypher are “all software and big math guys – the kind with no numbers, just letters,” Yoon quips.
They are plucked from the ranks of computer science, signal processing and cryptography, he says: “They see it as a signal recovery problem, not an audio problem.”
A lot of number-crunching goes on to extract voice from noise, which is why Cypher technology wouldn’t work even a few years ago when mobile devices lacked the processing power of modern-day handhelds.
Today, with a common cellphone, Cypher can 1) determine if a noise is speech, 2) filter out the bad noise, 3) without damaging the speech noise … in a mere 24 milliseconds.
That’s the amount of time it takes to “shoot the bad guys without hurting the friendlies,” Yoon says in a fortuitous analogy because Cypher technology makes perfect sense for the battlefield.
Interestingly, Yoon has heard complaints from some military folks that Cypher is almost too good. Commanders want to hear at least some of the pandemonium to project urgency. Of course, Cypher could oblige.
In North America, public safety agencies abide by Project 25 (P25 or APCO-25), a digital-radio standard dictated by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
Cypher does not supplant P25 vocoders, according to Yoon: “Instead we think we could be useful deployed in the analog stream before any codec operation.”
With commercial displays becoming so interactive it’s not difficult to envision how Cypher could prove useful for voice-control of digital signs and aspects of system operation that are challenging s to navigate via touch commands.
Yoon imagines the technology embedded, for example, in handheld remotes.
Even TV or radio dialog wouldn’t fool Cypher.
“Television dialog is not the same as live speech,” says Yoon. “Even really good television signals can be compressed, and Cypher would recognize it as noise.”
Cypher has been running on venture money for the past two years and is pitching its technology to cellphone companies, emergency communications firms, “basically anybody that has a voice component,” Yoon says.