The Challenges of Testing Voice-Controlled Audio Systems

Testing voice-controlled audio systems such as smart speakers, hearables, and vehicle infotainment systems is notoriously complex. They have numerous connections from wired to wireless and contain much signal processing, both on the record and the playback side. This means that their characteristics change according to ‘real world’ conditions of the environment that they are used in, such as background noise, playback levels, and room acoustics. Furthermore, their multifunctional nature means that there are many aspects of the device that may need to be tested, ranging from voice recognition to music playback, operation as a hands-free telephone, and in the case of hearables, hearing assistance. Due to their complex non-linear use cases, these devices often need to be tested at different levels and different environmental conditions. This paper focuses on tools and techniques to accurately measure the audio performance of such devices under the many various real-world conditions in which they are used.

 

语音控制的智能设备(例如智能扬声器、听觉设备和车辆信息娱乐系统)非常难以测试。它们具有从有线到无线的多样连接方式,并且在接收端和重放端使用了诸多信号处理技术。这意味着它们的特性会随着使用环境的“现实世界”条件(例如背景噪声、播放级别和室内声学条件)的不同而变化。 此外,它们的多功能特性意味着可能需要测试该设备的许多方面,包括语音识别、音乐播放、作为免提电话或听觉设备或助听器使用时的性能。由于其复杂的非线性使用情况,这些设备通常需要在不同级别和不同环境条件下进行测试。本文重点介绍在各种实际条件下准确测量此类设备的音频性能的工具和技术。

Author: Steve Temme, Listen, Inc.
Presented at ISEAT 2019, Shenzhen, China.

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Paper Preview: The Challenges of Testing Voice-Controlled Audio Systems

Abstract
Smart devices that are voice-controlled such as smart speakers, hearables, and vehicle infotainment systems are notoriously complex to test. They have numerous connections from wired to wireless and contain much signal processing, both on the record and the playback side. This means that their characteristics change according to ‘real world’ conditions of the environment that they are used in, such as background noise, playback levels, and room acoustics. Furthermore, their multifunctional nature means that there are many aspects of the device that may need to be tested, ranging from voice recognition to music playback, operation as a hands-free telephone, and in the case of hearables, hearing assistance. Due to their complex non-linear use cases, these devices often need to be tested at different levels and different environmental conditions. This paper focuses on tools and techniques to accurately measure the audio performance of such devices under the many various real-world conditions in which they are used.

Keywords: hearables, automotive infotainment, smart speakers, smartphones, test

Introduction
Smart Devices such as smart speakers, hearables and automotive infotainment systems have become increasingly challenging to test. They have many possible interfaces ranging from hardwired to wireless (Bluetooth, cloud-based), smartphone, voice (“Hey Siri”, “OK Google”, “Alexa”), and in the case of automotive, even USB memory stick and CarPlay/Android Auto. There is usually much signal processing, both on the record side (e.g. beamforming, background noise filtering, voice activity detection, and on the playback side (e.g. loudness, compression, equalization, and active noise cancellation).
This means that their characteristics change according to ‘real world’ conditions such as the physical environment and background noise. Furthermore, their multifunctional nature means that there are many aspects of the device that may need to be tested, ranging from voice recognition to music playback or even operation as a hands-free telephone, telephone headset or hearing aid. These devices often need to be tested at different levels and in different environmental conditions, for example different physical setups and with/without background noise, different signals etc.

Although, there are currently no standards for testing most smart devices, principles and test configurations are borrowed from many other audio devices and use existing standards such as IEC and BS EN for loudspeakers and headphones , IEEE for headsets, IEEE/TIA/ITU for telephone test, ANSI and IEC for hearing aid standards , and ETSI for background noise. Flexibility of the test system and experience with testing a wide range of acoustic devices is therefore critical to enable a device to be completely characterized.

This paper explains how to implement both basic acoustic tests and more complex real-world tests along with the techniques and standards that may be used. Most of the tests discussed are relevant to all smart devices including smart speakers, hearables and automotive infotainment, but some hearable-specific additional tests are also detailed. Finally, we present a check list of the test-system functionality you should look for when choosing a system to fully characterize a smart speaker or other smart device.

 

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More about testing infotainment systems.

Testing Voice-Controlled & Smartphone Integrated Infotainment Systems

A tutorial and accompanying paper on testing infotainment systems that was presented at the AES Automotive Conference, Sept 11-13, 2019, Neuburg an der Donau, Germany.

Voice-controlled and smartphone integrated vehicle infotainment systems are notoriously complex to test. They have numerous connections from wired to wireless and contain much signal processing, both on the record and on the playback side. This means that their characteristics change according to ‘real world’ conditions of the vehicle’s environment, including cabin acoustics and background noises from road, wind and motors. Furthermore, their multifunctional nature means that there are many aspects of the device that may need to be tested, ranging from voice recognition to music playback and operation as a hands-free telephone. Due to their complex non-linear use cases, these devices often need to be tested at different levels and different environmental conditions.

This tutorial offers practical hands-on advice on how to test such devices, including test configurations, what to measure, the challenges of making open-loop measurements, and how to select a test system.

Download presentation (slides)

Download accompanying paper

 

Paper Introduction

Audio Tests for Infotainment Systems

Infotainment systems have become increasingly challenging to test. They have many possible interfaces; hard-wired or auxiliary input, radio, CD, memory card, hard drive, USB, Bluetooth, smartphone (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) and even voice. They contain much signal processing, both on the record side (e.g. beamforming, background noise filtering, voice activity detection, and on the playback side (e.g.loudness, compression, equalization, and active noise cancellation). Some even have wake word detection, e.g. “Hey Siri”, “OK Google”, and “Alexa”. Due to their complex non-linear use cases, these devices often need to be tested at different levels and in different environmental conditions, for example with different background noises and different test signals. To further complicate matters, the test signal may need to be in the cloud to enable playback for testing voice recognition systems. Each manufacturer’s ecosystem is different in how it plays and records.

Smartphone integrated infotainment systems usually require an internet connection with voice services in order to process commands. On the playback side, some enable you to upload your own recordings such as iTunes (although bear in mind that these will probably be compressed). Others require them to be on a media streaming platform such as Spotify. For microphone testing, some systems such as Alexa allow access to recordings made; others do not for security and privacy reasons, which makes microphone testing challenging. Although the actual physical testing setup is very similar from vehicle to vehicle, for each it is necessary to understand how to wirelessly route the signal. Furthermore, each device needs activating with a different wake word, needs different delay compensation, and records for a different amount of time after it hears the wake word. This needs figuring out (largely by trial and error) for each infotainment system that you need to test.

Infotainment System Testing Standards

Although, there are currently no standards for testing infotainment systems with smartphone integration, principles and test configurations can be borrowed from many other audio devices and use existing standards such as IEC for loudspeakers, IEEE/TIA/ITU for speakerphones, and ETSI for background noise. Flexibility of the test system and experience with testing a wide range of acoustic devices is critical to enable a device to be completely characterized. This paper focuses on how to implement basic acoustic tests and some of the more complex real-world tests along with the techniques and standards that may be used.

The rest of the paper covers:

Basic Acoustic Tests
Advanced or ‘Real World’ Testing of Infotainment Systems
Speech Recognition
Background Noise
Voice Quality
Measurement System Requirements

Full Paper

 

More about testing infotainment systems.

Challenges of IoT Smart Speaker Testing

Quantitatively measuring the audio characteristics of IoT (Internet of Things) smart speakers presents several novel challenges. We discuss overcoming the practical challenges of testing such devices and demonstrate how to measure frequency response, distortion, and other common audio characteristics. In order to make these measurements, several measurement techniques and algorithms are presented that allow us to move past the practical difficulties presented by this class of emerging audio devices. We discuss test equipment requirements, selection of test signals and especially overcoming the challenges around injecting and extracting test signals from the device.

Authors: Glenn Hess (Indy Acoustic Research) and Daniel Knighten (Listen, Inc.)
Presented at the 143rd AES Conference, New York 2017

Full Paper

Challenges of MP3 Player Testing

MP3 player audio performance is discussed including measurements of frequency response, phase response, crosstalk, distortion, sampling rate errors, jitter, and maximum sound pressure level with headphones. In order to make these measurements, several measurement techniques and algorithms are presented to overcome some of the challenges of testing MP3 players. We discuss test equipment requirements, selection of test signals and the effects of the encoding on these test signals. A new method for measuring non-coherent distortion using any test signal including music is also presented.

Authors: Steve Temme, Pascal Brunet and Zachary Rimkunas
Presented at the 122nd AES Convention, Vienna, 2007

Full Paper