SoapBox Labs and Microsoft Announce Partnership to Tackle Childhood Literacy

SoapBox Labs AI-driven speech recognition technology combined with Microsoft’s global cloud infrastructure aims to address international education gap


WASHINGTON D.C., March 13, 2019 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 SoapBox Labs

SoapBox Labs has developed the world’s most accurate speech recognition technology for children. Combining the company’s large and unique children’s speech dataset with know-how on children’s voices and behaviours, our technology leverages deep learning (AI) techniques to build proprietary models and scoring algorithms. SoapBox Labs works with partners in the education, language learning, games, home devices and accessibility industries. Our API voice-enables their products and services, and delivers an accurate and safe voice interface experience to their young customers. SoapBox Labs technology is fully US COPPA and EU GDPR compliant.

SoapBox Labs was founded in 2013 by Dr. Patricia Scanlon, recognized in December 2018 by Forbes as one of the World’s Top Women in Tech. Dr. Scanlon is an ex-Bell Labs researcher and has almost 20 years experience in the area of speech recognition technologies. Dr. Martyn Farrows, COO, has spent over 20 years in the learning technologies field and is an expert in data privacy and protection. In 2019 the SoapBox team has grown to 18 people who between them have 100 years of speech recognition engineering and computational linguistics experience. In March 2019 the company partnered with Microsoft to tackle the global literacy crisis and was honored in Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards in April 2019.

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