A Voice Recognition App Adds Sound Effects While You Read to Your Kids

iStock
iStock

Technology is coming for kids’ story time, but maybe not in the way that you think. The future of bedtime stories, as MIT Technology Review describes it, won’t involve tablets or reading off screens, but it will have sound effects.

Novel Effect is an app that uses voice recognition to track the bedtime stories you’re reading to your kids and insert sound effects and music in response to certain cue words. It’s similar to a home assistant, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, except instead of playing music and setting kitchen timers for you, it’s on the ear-out for keywords contained in certain kids’ books.

Four mobile app screenshots side-by-side of the Novel Effect app.
Novel Effect

The app doesn’t work for all titles, but it offers effects for popular books you probably already own, like Where the Wild Things Are, The Hungry Caterpillar, and The Cat in the Hat. When you open the app on your phone, you select which book you plan to read. As you read the physical book out loud, the app listens for where you are in the text and adds sound effects, from dramatic music to monstrous roars.

It’s not going to trigger odd sound effects every time you say the word “caterpillar,” though. (Unlike the Amazon Echos that heard the words “Alexa, buy me a dollhouse” on a TV news report and rushed to fulfill the order.) The words have to correspond to the book you’ve selected in the app, though you don’t have to read the text from the beginning or keep any specific time. The app can recognize where you are in the book no matter where you start or whether you dive off into a tangent about how cool caterpillars are before resuming the story.

Novel Effect is part of Amazon’s Alexa Accelerator for voice recognition technology, and it seems feasible that one day this kind of functionality would be a skill you could enable on your Echo or other voice-controlled assistant. According to MIT Technology Review, the company hopes to allow users to create their own sound effects sometime in the near future.

[h/t MIT Technology Review]

Watch Ford's Sweaty-Butt Robot Put a Car Seat to the Test

iStock.com/gargantiopa
iStock.com/gargantiopa

Buyers tend to look at price, safety, and gas mileage when shopping for a car; a question that rarely comes up at the dealership is how well a car seat stands up to years of butt sweat. But even if it isn't a priority for car owners, the vehicle testers at Ford work to ensure the cars that leave the factory can accommodate the sweatiest passengers.

The secret to Ford's durable seats is a device called the Robutt. This video from the car company shows a Kuka robotic arm pushing a buttocks-shaped cushion into a car seat. To replicate a person sitting in the car after exercising, the dummy butt is heated to approximately human body temperate and pumped with half a liter of water. The average person produces about 0.7 to 1.5 liters of sweat in one hour of intense exercise, and people who are especially fit perspire 1.5 to 1.8 liters in the same time.

The sit test is repeated 7500 times over three days—simulating one decade of someone driving their sweaty behind home from the gym. If the surface of a car seat can make it through all that abuse without any wear and tear, the design is good enough for a Ford vehicle. Robutt-approved seats were first introduced in the 2018 Ford Fiesta and are now being built into all Ford vehicles in Europe.

You can watch the messy process play out below. Here are some more robots that, like the Robutt, were designed for oddly specific tasks.

Your Netflix Subscription Just Shot Up in Price

iStock.com/amesy
iStock.com/amesy

For the past several years, Netflix has been rolling out a steady stream of expensive original content, from Dave Chappelle comedy specials (for which he was reportedly paid $20 million apiece) to $90 million feature film spectacles like 2018’s Bright.

It appears the bill now needs settling up. Variety reports that the service has announced a price hike for its 58.4 million subscribers.

Effective immediately, Netflix subscribers on the Standard plan with two HD streams will pay $12.99 monthly, up from $10.99; the Premium plan, which includes four HD streams and 4K options, is jumping from $13.99 to $15.99 per month; while the Basic plan, with one standard-definition stream, will increase by a dollar, from $7.99 to $8.99.

In a press release explaining the fee increase, Netflix stated that the price hike is partly a product of the company’s desire to “continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience.”

Naturally, whether that represents value depends on whether users are enjoying their programming. Financially, the company spends more on content than comparable services like HBO and Hulu—by some estimates, as much as $13 billion in 2018.

Subscribers have a new season of The Punisher, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, a documentary on the doomed Fyre music festival; and a new Ted Bundy documentary series, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, to look forward to in the coming weeks.

[h/t Variety]

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