SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Texas Instruments Inc. will exit the dedicated speech-synthesis chip market at the end of this year when it transfers production of its MSP50C6XX family of speech synthesis ICs to Sensory Inc. here.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but a Sensory spokesman said the Santa Clara company will have the right to produce TI's latest generation of speech chips. Dallas-based TI retains ownership of its patents, the Sensory spokesman said.
Sensory will begin supporting new customers immediately, and TI will continue to accept orders for the MSP50C6xx family until the end of 2001, under an agreement announced by the two companies this week.
A Sensory spokesman said TI's high-quality, low-data-rate speech synthesis chips will be complementary to the company's own speech recognition chips used in toys, games, robots, home automation systems and products for the disabled. He said the company is especially interested in the fact that "TI's low-data-rate speech compression means it takes a smaller amount of memory to do high-quality speech synthesis."
The MSP50C6XX family features five different chips introduced in 1999 and 2000, whose claim to fame is providing the voice box behind Furby, the chatty toy from Tiger Electronics Ltd., a division of Hasbro Inc. of Vernon, Ill.
The chip family includes a 12.32 MIPS processor for high-quality, low-data-rate speech compression and Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) music synthesis, with power left over for other processor and control functions. Members of the MSP50C6XX line can store up to 37 minutes of speech and include as much as 64 I/O pins for external interfacing.
While the newer chips move to Sensory, TI's older speech synthesis chips will be discontinued, according to Craig Dalley, product manager of TI's Analog and Mixed Signal Group.
The exit from the speech IC business will not have a material impact on earnings, because it represented a relatively small percentage of the company's revenue, said a TI spokeswoman.
However, TI's departure from the business may have an impact on the speech synthesis market. The company was the first to commercialize speech synthesis products, and its achievements are chronicled on the Smithsonian Speech Synthesis History Project Web site.
TI entered the market in the mid '70s, when it provided both a speech synthesizer chip and the learning toy known as the Speak & Spell, which was developed and sold by TI's consumer products division.
At the time, Gene A. Frantz, TI senior fellow and business development manager for the DSP group, was a program manager for the Speak & Spell and led the development team for TI's early speech products.
The company developed voice synthesizer processors used in a home computer add-on module for programmers to add speech to programs they would write for themselves. Speech synthesis was also employed in The Magic Wand Speaking Reader, which employed bar codes and a small bar code reader to speak passages of the book. The Magic Wand Speaking Reader was introduced before TI discontinued its consumer products division in 1983.
In later years, the company provided speech chips to other customers for toys, educational products, language translation products, security systems and home monitoring devices.
Among the more recent accomplishments of TI's speech synthesis development team is a speech synthesis algorithm that provides a 1,000-bit/second compression rate, allowing more speech to be stored on chip at a lower cost. This algorithm is implemented on the most recent products in the MPSP50C6XX family, according to Dalley.