'Chirp' May Be Google's Answer to Amazon Echo: Reports

Google is working to turn OnHub into an Amazon Echo competitor, according to reports. More likely, it'll take the concept even further.

Google OnHub router

Google is reportedly working on hardware to house its voice assistant technology and enable it to compete with Amazon Echo and other voice-based, AI-driven assistants.

According to a May 11 article in Recode, the device is code-named Chirp and would resemble Google's OnHub WiFi router (pictured), which looks somewhat like the Amazon Echo.

Google didn't respond to a request for comment.

OnHub enables people to move away from the blinking blue lights and crazy-long passwords common to routers—it's controlled via an app and "speaks human," as Google describes it. Its purpose is to keep WiFi connections running strong and consistently and to show a user exactly what's connected.

Chirp would reportedly bring Google's voice-based search and digital assistant technologies to OnHub, helping to make it more of a device for controlling and managing the home—a domain of increasing interest, as devices, services, televisions, security systems, thermostats and more begin to link up.

The Amazon Echo responds, by default, to the name Alexa and is always listening. A user can say, "Alexa …" and then tell it to play a song in the library of a number of connected music services, such as Prime Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Spotify. Alexa also can reorder items from Amazon or add items to an Amazon cart; order an Uber ride; answer general, searchable information; and control connected utilities, such as Nest, Samsung SmartThings and lighting systems.

Chirp (perhaps it responds to a voice prompt with a bird-like tone?) is an easy product to imagine, as the universes of Amazon and Google increasingly resemble each other, as Amazon improves its search, voice-recognition capabilities and AI, and Google moves more into shopping and services.

According to an April report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, Amazon has sold approximately 3 million Echo speakers.

But there's no time for resting on laurels.

At TechCruch Disrupt May 9, Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, co-creators of Apple's Siri, introduced Viv, a voice-based assistant that not only can answer questions, but also can write the code, on the fly, that helps it understand a complex question and reach an answer.

Viv also is device-agnostic, and the Viv Labs team hopes to implement it across a number of devices and services. According to a January report from The Information, both Google and Facebook have tried to acquire Viv Labs, but were rebuffed.

How Google might try to leapfrog Echo is anyone's guess, as are all the potential uses of the company's culminating technologies.

The New York Times reported May 11 that U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, who has a doctorate in theoretical physics, is aggressively courting Silicon Valley technology firms for their AI know-how. Part of Carter's military strategy is to use advanced technologies to offset a smaller military.

The Pentagon, said The Times article, has played a key role in championing concepts such as the self-driving vehicle. It also has a year-old Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) group and a champion, in Carter, of a culture that's less government-as-usual and more Silicon Valley.

The Defense Department has a 2017 R&D budget, said The Times, that's "more than double the combined R&D spending of Apple, Google and Intel in the last year."