BBC to launch voice assistant that will recognise regional accents

Simon Austin's picture
by Simon Austin

The BBC is planning to launch a digital voice assistant next year as a rival to Amazon’s Alexa and vows it will recognise regional accents.

The product, with a working title of ‘Beeb’ will not be a hardware device in its own right but is being designed to work on all smart speakers, TVs and mobiles. BBC staff around the UK are being invited to record their voices to help train the programme to recognise different accents.

Some US-developed voice assistants have struggled to understand regional English accents.  

"Much like we did with BBC iPlayer, we want to make sure everyone can benefit from this new technology, and bring people exciting new content, programmes and services - in a trusted, easy-to-use way," a BBC spokesman said.

"This marks another step in ensuring public service values can be protected in a voice-enabled future."

Chinese tech firm Baidu and Amazon had a combined 43% share of the global smart-speaker market in the second quarter of 2019, according to a report from Canalys.

Analyst Ben Wood, from CCS Insight, told the BBC he feared the Corporation would find it difficult to compete with these tech giants and also expressed concern about the use of ‘Beeb’ as a wake-up word for the device.

“Typically voice assistants use a multi-syllable word or phrase such as Alexa or Hey Google to ensure accurate identification,” Wood said. “I fear Beeb might end up being unreliable.”

The BBC said the word had worked well in its research so far but added that it was not a final decision.

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