SoapBox Labs and Microsoft Announce Partnership to Tackle Childhood Literacy

Irish company SoapBox Labs today announced a partnership with Microsoft in an effort to combat the growing childhood literacy crisis. Through the partnership, SoapBox Labs will bring its AI-driven child-specific speech recognition technology to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to deliver a scalable and cost-effective solution for child literacy which is available across global markets. The partnership is initially being rolled out on a pilot basis in Ireland and the UK.

The pilot project will set out to demonstrate how SoapBox Labs’ state-of-the-art kids’ speech recognition technology can be used at scale with Microsoft Azure, to support accessibility, literacy and language learning for young children.

Reading is a foundational skill as it forms the basis of most other learning activities in the classroom. Yet, according to UNESCO, 175 million children globally lack even basic literacy skills.

SoapBox Labs’ speech recognition technology powers automated reading and language learning tutors that can rapidly advance a child’s literacy skills by allowing the device to ‘listen’ as a child reads aloud, assessing pronunciation and responding appropriately, just as a helpful adult would do.

“Children’s voices differ greatly from adult’s, both physically and behaviourally. Off-the-shelf speech recognition designed for adult voices and behaviours do not work accurately for children.” said Patricia Scanlon, Founder and CEO, SoapBox Labs. “Our proprietary speech recognition technology is designed for children aged 4-12, modelling their voices and behaviours and thereby ensuring high accuracy. Developers can voice-enable entertainment and educational experiences for children by integrating our technology into their products.”

“The societal impact of a technology like ours, that helps children to advance their reading skills is potentially huge,” said Scanlon. “We are partnering with Microsoft because we value its commitment to data privacy and security, and we share common core values when it comes to education and accessibility for children.

“Microsoft is partnering with SoapBox Labs because we believe that technology can solve significant societal challenges, like child literacy.” says Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director, Microsoft Ireland, “This partnership is an example of how AI for Good and cloud computing can be harnessed to deliver real social impact. We look forward to progressing the pilot in Ireland and to see the impact that the partnership will have on the children.”

“Imagine the positive impact of children having access to an automated reading tutor that allows them to regularly practice and rapidly advance their reading skills,” added Julie Sinnamon, CEO, Enterprise Ireland. “Engaging a child early and helping them to read can have a very positive impact on their quality of life, as well as a benefit to society. We’re very proud to support an Irish technology innovation with such far-reaching and positive possibilities as Soapbox Labs.”

About Enterprise Ireland

Enterprise Ireland is the venture arm of the Irish government that works with Irish enterprises to help them start, grow, innovate and win export sales in global markets. Enterprise Ireland partners with entrepreneurs, Irish businesses, and the research and investment communities to develop Ireland’s international trade, innovation, leadership, and competitiveness. In this way, we support sustainable economic growth and regional development and help create and sustain employment in Ireland.

About SoapBox Labs

A portfolio company of Astia Angels, SoapBox Labs has developed the world’s most accurate speech recognition technology for children, fully US COPPA and EU GDPR complaint. Combining the company’s unique children’s speech dataset (thousands of hours) with know-how on children’s voices and behaviours, their platform leverages state-of-the-art deep learning (AI) techniques to build proprietary models and scoring algorithms. The SoapBox API allows third parties, to voice-enable their own products and services and deliver a quality voice interface experience for children.

SoapBox Labs was founded in 2013 by Dr. Patricia Scanlon, recognised by Forbes in December 2018 as one of the World’s Top Women in Tech. Dr. Scanlon is an ex-Bell Labs researcher who holds a PhD and nearly 20 years experience in the area of speech recognition technologies. Dr. Martyn Farrows, COO, brings over 20 years experience in learning technologies and is an expert in Data Privacy and Protection, critical to SoapBox Labs in the processing of children’s data under COPPA and GDPR.

By 20 Mar 2019