SoapBox Labs Rolls Out New Features to Help Voice Assistants Understand Children
Children’s speech recognition tech startup SoapBox Labs has launched new ways for children to better interact with voice assistants. The new Voice Activity Detection (VAD) and Custom Wakeword tools are specially designed to be as easy for kids to use as their counterparts for adults.
SoapBox Labs created a database from thousands of hours of children’s speech and applied deep learning technology to create an API that is able to understand the unique patterns and inflections of children’s speech. The VAD tech alerts a device when a child is beginning to speak, activating the language analysis to understand what is said. The custom wakeword feature lays that ability on the specific words used to activate a voice assistant, enabling the developers of toys and devices to pick out whatever phrase they want to activate the voice component. The new features arrive a little over a year after SoapBox Labs closed a €5.8 million ($6.3 million) round of funding led by Astia Angels and Elkstone Capital.
“Our consumer-focused clients are always looking to offer more immersive and natural play experiences to kids while ensuring their privacy is protected,” SoapBox Labs CEO Martyn Farrows said in a statement. “New voice features like these are the answer.”
Interest in applying voice tech to children’s education and entertainment has been growing for a while, but the at-home education and huge amounts of indoor time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that demand enormously. There are several kid-focused voice-enabled devices, like the new Echo Show 5 Kids and the latest reading helpers in Google Play, not to mention third-party toy manufacturers who are designing smart toys that a voice assistant can control. Though there’s some evidence of younger children distrusting voice assistants, being able to be heard and understood might go a long way to making kids more comfortable with voice AI, especially if it’s packaged in a beloved toy. The SoapBox Play facet of the company will be where the new features are mainly focused, which means SoapBox’s VAD and custom wakeword tech will appear in many entertainment products over the next year.
“SoapBox prides itself on solutions that are easy to integrate and that keep accuracy and privacy at the forefront of a high-performance experience for kids,” SoapBox founder Patricia Scanlon said. “Importantly, we also offer clients the flexibility to deliver these experiences on-device or in physical toys using embedded chips.”