BBC Is Creating Voice Assistant That Understands Accents

The BBC is developing a voice assistant named Beeb that it promises will understand British accents. Other virtual assistants have struggled with regional accents, but the BBC team will be recording staff voices from multiple U.K. locations to address that issue. While there are no plans to introduce a standalone CE device similar to Google Home or Amazon Echo, the BBC plans to debut Beeb next year to help people interact with online services offered via the company’s website and its smart TV iPlayer app. The assistant’s software will also be available to manufacturers interested in including it in their own consumer devices.

“The voice assistant will be woken up by saying the word ‘Beeb,’ although it will not attempt to replicate the full set of functions provided by major commercial rivals — partly because the BBC product has been developed by a much smaller team without the resources of major global technology companies,” reports The Guardian. “Instead, it will enable people to use their voices to engage with existing BBC content and develop new forms of interactive programming.”

Smart speakers are gaining popularity in the U.K. where approximately 20 percent of households are already comfortable with digital assistants. This is impacting how consumers are interacting with media, including radio. The BBC plans to capitalize on this trend with its own software that will help it gather user data.

“From the end of this month its radio stations will no longer be available on the popular TuneIn radio app, which is used by Amazon’s Alexa, because the U.S. company refused to share information on listeners of BBC stations,” notes The Guardian. “The BBC is now pushing people to use access its stations via its apps or Alexa, in the hope that people log in and it can understand what people are consuming.”

While some consumers in the U.K. are reluctant to adopt voice assistant tech due to issues involving targeted ads and security, a spokesperson explained how the BBC brand could curb their concerns: “People know and trust the BBC, so it will use its role as public service innovator in technology to ensure everyone — not just the tech-elite — can benefit from accessing content and new experiences in this new way.”

Earlier this summer, the company announced that the BBC Box was in development, which it described as “a physical device in the person’s home onto which personal data is gathered from a range of sources, although of course it is only collected with the participants explicit permission, and processed under the person’s control.”

“In simpler terms,” Gizmodo explains, “the Box is being touted as offering a way to connect your data from social networks to help formulate video recommendations while limiting how much of that data gets shared with the BBC for other, possibly nefarious purposes.”

Related:
We’re Still Not Getting Voice Assistants Right: We Should Be Thinking Bigger, The Verge, 8/28/19