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snowboyKITT.AI wants to help developers add voice activation features to almost any device for free.

The Seattle startup today unveiled its first software toolkit called Snowboy, which lets developers add verbal “hotword detection” to devices. It’s the same technology that tech giants like Amazon and Apple use for products like Alexa and Siri, but now KITT.AI is enabling anyone to easily add the functionality to their own hardware.

The idea is to let users talk to devices in order to “wake” or “command” them to do something. Snowboy uses deep neural network technology that learns and recognizes unique patterns in voices. It also utilizes sophisticated audio processing techniques and can work without an internet connection.

This video explains the technology:

KITT.AI, originally incubated inside Paul Allen’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), launched last year and in January landed funding from Founders’ Co-op and Amazon’s Alexa Fund. It also recently received investment from Madrona Venture Group and the startup currently works at the firm’s downtown Seattle office.

KITT.AI co-founder and CEO Xuchen Yao, and co-founder Guoguo Chen, the main creator of Snowboy.
KITT.AI co-founder and CEO Xuchen Yao, and co-founder Guoguo Chen, the main creator of Snowboy.

KITT.AI was co-founded by Xuchen Yao, a Johns Hopkins University PhD graduate who last year joined the AI2 incubator, led by Oren Etzioni, the former University of Washington computer science professor who now heads the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Yao said that Snowboy is unique because it gives developers access to the software, unlike other platforms like Sensory. KITT.AI plans to make money off Snowboy by charging enterprise customers for commercial use.

“It’s proprietary software and developers do not have free access,” Yao said of other ‘hotword detection’ platforms. “It’s extremely painful to build a proof-of-concept product. KITT.AI instead builds an open community that provides the software toolkit for free and encourages developer engagement.”

The startup’s other co-founders are Guoguo Chen, a deep learning and speech recognition expert who created the “OK Google” hotword detection prototype for Android; and Kenji Sagae former professor of Natural Language Processing at USC and an expert in natural language parsing and dialogue systems.

KITT.AI previously developed a prototype called Semantic Lighting based on its technology — letting people interact with smartlights by talking with them — demonstrating the early capabilities of its natural language processing platform.

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