Speech technology start-up scores research partnership with US university

6 Nov 2019

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Irish company SoapBox Labs has partnered with a US research centre to develop and improve children’s literacy assessments.

Dublin-based speech recognition technology company SoapBox Labs has partnered with a reading research centre in the US to create and deliver next-generation language and literacy assessments for young children.

Florida State University’s Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR) selected SoapBox Labs for this multi-year partnership based on its work on speech recognition technology focused on children’s voices.

“SoapBox Labs has developed a unique speech recognition technology that actually works for children,” said Dr Yaacov Petscher, an associate director at FCRR and associate professor at the university.

‘An immersive, reliable and efficient assessment system like this can hopefully revolutionise the way we think about assessing children’

While early literacy provides a critical foundation for later academic success, traditional literacy assessments can include tasks that are challenging for young children. This makes it difficult to identify challenges and intervene effectively in early years.

A pilot study at FCRR using SoapBox Labs’ speech recognition technology took place in September 2019. A total of 1,000 students were assessed, ranging in age from about five to eight years old. Petscher explained how this collaboration could have “transformative potential” in developing literacy assessments and better understanding children’s reading and language skills.

“Speech recognition holds immense potential to better identify a child’s likelihood for literacy success, and to reduce the risk of bias for dual language learners or children who speak with a dialect variation,” Petscher explained. “An immersive, reliable and efficient assessment system like this can hopefully revolutionise the way we think about assessing children.”

SoapBox Labs’ journey so far

SoapBox Labs’ speech recognition technology was specifically designed with children in mind and has been developed to identify difficulties with language or literacy development at a very early stage.

“Our technology delivers an interactive process that is accurate, providing immediate feedback to children, parents and teachers on a child’s progress along the journey to literacy,” said founder and CEO Dr Patricia Scanlon, on whose research the technology is based.

SoapBox Labs is billed as an accurate, safe and age-appropriate solution built using a privacy-by-design approach.

The start-up has secured millions in funding since being founded in 2013, and Scanlon has been recognised by Forbes as one of the world’s top 50 women in tech. Earlier this year, SoapBox Labs signed a major deal with Microsoft to bring its technology to the Azure cloud platform.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.