Voice tech, toys and privacy

Martyn Farrows, SoapBox Labs
Greetings from Dublin. Martyn Farrows here, CEO of voice-tech-for-kids company SoapBox Labs. SoapBox has teamed up with Mojo Nation on a new monthly column to share our knowledge and expertise about voice-powered toys for kids.

When it comes to toys, think of SoapBox as the oil in your engine: you design and create great toys; we power them with safe and age-appropriate voice technology that understands kids’ voices and behaviours, regardless of age or accent.

SoapBox has been developing voice solutions for kids for the last eight years, and our success in the area is down to a number of factors — our focus on kids, on privacy, and our commitment to building technology that’s quick and easy to test and integrate.

SoapBox is laser focused on voice tech for kids. We only build voice solutions for two to 12 year old kids, while most other voice solutions in the market are built for adult voices.

Martyn Farrows, SoapBox Labs
Kids’ speech patterns, unpredictable behaviours, noisy environments, and privacy needs are very different to adults’. That means that building voice solutions that work for them is a lot more complex. Today’s Generation Alpha kids deserve voice technology that understands them every time they speak – and as you probably know, they expect nothing less.

SoapBox cut its teeth in the education space where the accuracy of our voice technology across ages, accents, and dialects gave us a competitive edge. We now power voice-enabled literacy and language tools for leading edtech companies across the US, Europe and Asia.

There’s always been a hunger among toy inventors and toy companies to offer voice-powered play experiences, but delivering high performance solutions for kids is complex. And then, of course, there are the privacy issues.

“The number one request we hear from girls is that they want to have a two-way conversation with a Barbie doll,” said a Mattel spokesperson in 2015 upon the release of Hello Barbie, the first voice-powered doll in the market. Within a couple of months however, the doll had disappeared from shelves. Why? Because of concerns about children’s voice data privacy and the fact that their voice data was being sent “to the cloud” for processing.

Martyn Farrows, SoapBox Labs
SoapBox Labs has been on an eight-year journey to build privacy-first kid-specific voice technology. Our privacy-by-design approach means that our kids’ voice data is never re-used, shared, sold or stored for marketing or advertising purposes. It also means that in addition to offering online solutions that need internet access, our voice tech is flexible enough to work on-device – in an app that’s controlling a robot or on an embedded chip – inside a cuddly teddy bear, for example.

“SoapBox releases VAD and custom wakeword features for kids”. This week we’re releasing two new voice features that immerse kids in more natural, friction-free play experiences. Voice Activity Detection (VAD) means that the microphone starts listening only at the point when a child begins to speak, so there is no “accidental” processing of voice data. With our Custom Wakeword feature, a child only needs to say the toy’s name for it to come to life — no tap, click or button press needed.

SoapBox’s toy clients tell us that our hands-free features like VAD and Custom Wakeword significantly expand the play experiences they’re looking to offer kids through toys, games and apps. Voice “turns on the magic” for kids of all ages; think everything from cuddly teddy bears to interactive TV to app-driven robots and XR experiences.

Voice-enabled toys expand toy companies’ ability to offer deeper and more engaging play experiences to kids. And when kids use their voices to control their toys or games, that experience is never interrupted by the need to juggle menus, buttons or clunky controllers.

To find out more about voice tech for kids, the privacy concerns to pay attention to with voice, or the next big thing in voice-enabled entertainment for kids, come to SoapBox Labs.

We’d be delighted to connect and chat more with you, so please do drop us a line at [email protected].

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