Education Robot Maker Roybi Boosts Kids Speech Recognition Technology With Acquisition

Feb 25, 2020

Roybi, the maker of a pill-shaped robot to teach language and math skills to young children, has acquired additional technology to power its educational features.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has acquired the KidSense artificial intelligence engine developed by Kadho. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Based in Irvine, Calif., Kadho has spent the past five years developing the KidSense engine, which recognizes children’s speech and is based on speech and voice data from about 150,000 children, according to Roybi CEO Elnaz Sarraf. Developed with experts in language development, the technology covers languages including English, Mandarin and Korean. It can also account for regional dialects, she claims.

This Roybi promo video shows how kids interact with the robot.

The KidSense engine will play a critical role in how children interact with Roybi’s robots, which respond to kids by verbal communication. The acquisition will hasten Roybi’s path to creating assessments on how kids pronounce words and master vocabulary, Sarraf adds.

“It’s not something you can build quickly,” says Sarraf. “It requires a lot of data and a lot of time.”

Purchasing KidSense made sense because most commercial speech recognition tools are built based on data from adults speaking, she adds. Plus, the technology can work offline, meaning that children can still interact with Roybi on airplanes and in areas with spotty or no internet coverage.

Roybi is not alone in laying claim to speech-recognition technology informed by data from kids. An Irish company, SoapBox Labs, has taken a similar approach to create early-childhood literacy tools. Another AI-powered speech education tool, Amira, raised $5 million in September.

Founded in 2017, Roybi has raised $4.2 million in venture capital, on top of $120,000 in a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Its biggest market is the U.S., with a growing footprint in Canada, East Asia and the Middle East. The company has 12 full-time employees with eight part-time employees.

With the sale of its KidSense engine, Kadho is no longer in the education business, CEO Kaveh Azartash said in an email. The Irvine, Calif.-based company had previously integrated its technology with companies that make and power smartwatches, as one example of the technology’s use.

This KidSense video shows the software in use with a Qualcomm board.

TechCrunch reported in 2018 that Kadho had generated $1.2 million in revenue from customers on annual contracts and through software service cales. It had raised $2.5 million from investors including Plug and Play Tech Center, Beam Capital, Skywood Capital, SFK Investment, Sparks Lab and other angel investors. Azartash declined to comment on how much money his company has raised to date. KidSense’s contracts established before the acquisition have ceased, Sarraf says.

While the educational toys market appears ever-expanding, Sarraf says she’s confident her products can appeal to parents who want their children away from a screen and participating in more imaginative play while providing more advanced technology than usually seen from young learners’ educational products.

Educational toys to grab investor interest include Lovevery, a more low-tech toy provider that raised $20 million in October. Acquisitions in the category of toys to teach kids coding include LittleBits and Dexter Industries.


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