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

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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 an AI-Powered Robot Take the Fun Out of 'Where's Waldo'

YouTube
YouTube

"There's Waldo" is the name of an AI-powered robot that has been trained to swiftly suck all the fun out of the beloved children's books. As Popular Mechanics reports, the robot can pick Waldo's pom-pom beanie and striped shirt out of a crowd in just 4.45 seconds, "which is better than most 5-year-olds," according to the robot's maker.

Built by creative agency Redpepper, the robot is linked to Google's AutoML Vision service, which was fed 107 photos of Waldo from Google Images.

"I thought that wouldn't be enough data to build a strong model, but it gives surprisingly good predictions on Waldos that weren't in the original training set," Matt Reed, creative technologist at Redpepper, tells The Verge.

The robot's mechanical arm is equipped with a Vision Camera Kit, which lets it snap photos of the page and send them to AutoML Vision to be analyzed. Disconcertingly, the otherwise industrial-looking robot has a rubber hand that it uses to point to Waldo when it's at least 95 percent sure that the man on the page is, indeed, Waldo. Alas, once the machines take over, "Where's Waldo?" will just be one more phrase that future generations won't understand.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

How to Rig Your Android Phone to Play Old Floppy Disk Games

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iStock

Owning a smartphone means you have thousands of games at your fingertips, but capturing the nostalgia of playing a game saved on a floppy disk isn't as simple as downloading an app. Reviving floppy disk games for the smartphone era is a bit more complicated, and YouTube vintage video game reviewer LGR shows you just how to do it step by step.

In this video, spotted by Kotaku, LGR takes an old floppy disk, the same kind you used in your computer class at school, and uses it to play a classic video game on a smartphone. This is made possible with an Android phone, a USB connector, an Android USB adaptor, and a portable floppy disk drive that's about as big as the phone itself. (The hardware doesn't work for iPhones, but if you're an Apple user there are plenty of ways to play old PC games online).

Just inserting the disk into the drive when it's connected to your phone isn't enough to start playing: You need to download a special app that mimics Microsoft's old disk operating system, like Magic Dosbox, for example. Once you have that on your phone, you can use it to open whatever game is saved to your floppy disk.

Because old PC games weren't made for touchscreens, the smartphone gameplay can be a little be a little awkward—but if you're willing to hook a floppy disk drive up to your phone, convenience likely isn't your goal. You can watch LGR's full instructions in the video below.

[h/t Kotaku]

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