Monday 9 December 2019

Leading Irish Artificial Intelligence startup wins €1.5m in EU funding

Former IBM and Bell Labs worker Patricia Scanlon, the founder of Dublin-based startup SoapBox Labs. Photo: Arthur Carron
Former IBM and Bell Labs worker Patricia Scanlon, the founder of Dublin-based startup SoapBox Labs. Photo: Arthur Carron
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

One of Ireland’s leading artificial intelligence startups has won €1.5m in EU funding, taking its financial backing to over €3m.

SoapBox Labs, which specialises in childrens’ speech technology, also landed €600,000 from existing backers in the funding round.

The company was founded by former IBM and Bell Labs expert, Dr Patricia Scanlon.

Soapbox Lab’s technology integrates with voice-enabled devices and apps, focusing particularly on smart voice interfaces for kids.

The cash will help to “bring multiple languages into its children’s speech recognition platform” said Dr Scanlon.

Dr Scanlon, who has 20 years experience in the field and a PhD, is acknowledged as one of the experts in her field. Her technology uses over 600,000 audio samples from 15,000 children in 125 countries, which helps certify the data’s ‘real world’ application. The company employs over ten people in Dublin.

Some recent studies suggest that reading ability among children has fallen in some EU countries, as well as in the US.

“Immigrants and disadvantaged children are lagging even further behind their more advantaged peers,” said Dr Scanlon. “Speech recognition technology is a cost-effective and scalable solution that can help address these global literacy challenges.”

The SoapBox Labs speech recognition platform for children “provides a unique capability” by voice-enabling educational reading and language learning tutoring apps, giving devices and computers “ears” to listen as a child reads, detects errors, and assesses the child’s fluency and comprehension of the text being read, she said. The platform also enables children’s voice-control for home devices, apps, games and smart toys.

The latest SoapBox platform is developing Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, French, German and Italian recognition capabilities. As children read out loud, devices and apps that are enabled by the SoapBox technology will provide them with real-time feedback and improve reading skills while tracking overall progress.

“We’re excited to now announce our multilingual innovation project that will enhance literacy and language learning for children around the globe,” said Dr Scanlon. “Globally, we’re facing a literacy challenge where children are falling behind in their reading skills at a critical age in their development and learning new languages is becoming increasingly more important. Reading is a foundational skill, one that SoapBox Labs intends on helping children with by providing speech recognition technology in multiple languages that empowers children and their parents to easily progress their reading and language learning skills using cost-effective, accessible technology.”

Uunder the European Union’s SME Instrument, just 10 companies out of 500 applicants were awarded a grant.


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