The Speak & Spell™ learning aid functioned much like a parent preparing a student for a spelling quiz. It would say the word, allow the pressing of keys labeled with the alphabet to spell out the word, then report on the result of the effort.

Speak & Spell™ introduced – first commercial use of DSP technology

The Speak & Spell learning aid was introduced at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in June 1978.

An outgrowth of TI’s research in the area of synthetic speech, the Speak & Spell educational product was designed to help children age seven and older learn how to spell and pronounce more than 200 commonly misspelled words.

It began in 1976 as a three-month feasibility study with a $25,000 budget. Four TIers worked on the project in its early stages: Paul Breedlove, Richard Wiggins, Larry Brantingham, and Gene Frantz. The Speak & Spell concept grew out of Breedlove's brainstorming ideas for products that might demonstrate the capabilities of bubble memory (a TI research project). TI concluded that speech data took a lot of memory and would be a good application.

The talking learning aid used an entirely new concept in speech recognition. Unlike tape recorders and pull-string photograph records used in many “speaking” toys at the time, TI's Solid State Speech circuitry had no moving parts. When it was told to say something it drew a word from memory, processed it through an integrated circuit model of a human vocal tract and then spoke electronically.

It marked the first time the human vocal tract had been electronically duplicated on a single chip of silicon.

The Speak & Spell's success extended TI's thrust in educational products to Speak & Math™, Speak & Read™, Speak & Music™, and a whole collection of speaking children's toys. Speak & Spell products were produced around the world – in several languages.

Although TI's learning aids were introduced more than 25 years ago, the basic learning principles and design concepts remain the standard for educational toys.

Other speech synthesis and voice recognition applications are pervasive today – ranging from telephone applications for checking airline schedules, to voice-assisted navigation systems in automobiles, computers for the blind, and security applications.

 
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News release: Speech synthesis IC developed by TI
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