New Japanese Toy Synthesizes Parent Voices to Read Stories to Kids

Japanese toy maker Takara Tomy has launched a smart speaker for children that can synthesize a parent’s voice to read stories to their kids. The new Coemo device can mimic an adult’s voice using a provided sample to create the illusion of their voice when their child wants a bedtime story but the parent might not be available to perform.

Coemo Voice

Coemo, whose name is a play on koe, the word for voice in Japanese, is a white, egg-shaped smart speaker designed for a kid’s bedside table. Parents can use the related app for the device to make a recording reading a text provided by Coemo. The built-in AI then uses this audio to produce a synthetic voice profile of the parent. When a child wants to hear one of the 45 stories Coemo comes pre-loaded with, they’ll hear their parent’s voice performing any of the original stories and folktales available. The artificial voice can match inflection and tone by the parent to give the story the appropriate intonation throughout and make it seem like a person is reading the story. The device can store multiple voice profiles, so the child can pick any relative with a voice profile on the device.The $105 Coemo is only available in in Japan at the moment, with pre-orders beginning in June and shipment starting in the fall.

Child Voice AI

Takara Tomy’s creation is part of the growing trend for child-friendly AI and connected devices. For instance, children’s bedtime robot Snorble raised $10 million for a toy that uses voice recognition and natural language processing to help kids go to bed. It can tell stories, run breathing exercises, and play calming music accompanied by a light show For all the activities, Snorble can converse with kids as a digital assistant, albeit one limited to Snorble’s features. For the child-specific speech recognition, Snorble turned to Spanish voice AI developer Sciling to build the conversational AI interface that can understand and best communicate with younger children.

Meanwhile, Amazon recently debuted the new Glow, a device combining an interactive projector and video call screen called Kids can talk face-to-face with a distant friend or relative while playing games or reading books with them through the virtual touchscreen created by the projector, mirrored on their video caller’s smart device. They can read stories together, and the child will see the page on the table turn as the person on the screen flips the page on their device. The same goes for games and art projects. The caller’s Android or iOS device links to the interactive projector via a free Glow app to sync the experience. The Glow builds on earlier projects like the Echo Dot Kids Edition and Alexa-enabled toys like the KidKraft Kitchen. The company’s family-friendly efforts around Alexa and other tech haven’t staved off all legal challenges. Wary parents unconvinced by smart reading tutors and a Disney-branded AI might be convinced to get into the Amazon tech ecosystem by the Glow and its vision of connecting far-flung families.

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