Despite their massive failure in the digital assistant and smart speaker market, Microsoft’s scientists have not stopped innovating, and their latest invention is detailed in a November 2018 patent published a few days ago by the USPTO.
Their “Smart speaker with microphone room calibration” includes a completely unique concept. While many smart speakers use their microphones and speakers to measure the acoustics of a room, Microsoft envisions using a ring of optical sensors to detect the presence of nearby sound reflective objects, and adjust the beamforming of the speaker, used to detect more clearly when someone is speaking.
Microsoft imagines a speaker with a ring of microphones and a matching ring of infra-red, self-lit optical sensors, and then using the sensors to detect nearby walls for example. If a wall is detected, the matching microphone on that side will be deactivated.
Microsoft notes that it is very common to have smart speakers positioned next to walls and in corners and that the reflection of sound from these hard surfaces can make voice recognition more difficult.
It is not clear why the same calibration work could not be done without a ring of cameras, and I am not sure consumers would be thrilled by being watched constantly.
Microsoft of course no longer have a smart speaker business, so I suspect this idea, which can be seen here, will not go too far in the end.