A baby cry translator? A company is using machine learning to translate your baby

Sometimes a simple “wah” is enough. Other times, babies may need an extra hand to communicate.

According to Swiss and Barcelona-based startup Zoundream, that extra help can come in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) and a proprietary device that translates what they call the “universal language” of babies.

“Every time a baby cries, he’s asking for something,” Zoundream CEO Roberto Iannone said in an interview with IE at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The company’s idea is based on the premise that “babies cry more or less the same way for the same needs,” he said.

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Zoundream has collected thousands of hours of data on crying babies

Although the words baby and artificial intelligence together can conjure up spooky sci-fi images, Iannone emphasized the human element of Zoundream’s work — their device, he explained, is in no way a substitute for that strong parental intuition. . Instead, it acts as an aid that enhances the parent’s own abilities.

“Our device is absolutely not meant to replace parents’ role in understanding their own babies,” Iannone said. “It’s actually a way to give them confidence and bring more attention to how the baby is crying and what the baby needs.”

Zoundream used machine learning software to analyze thousands of hours of international baby cries. They then categorized these cries into four different categories: hunger, pain, gas, and cuddling. The company was co-founded by Iannone alongside data scientist Ana Laguna, whom Iannone approached when he discovered she was collecting data on baby’s crying and defining patterns in that crying.

“When we started,” Iannone explained, “we bought some cheap recorders and asked some parents, and even paid some of them, to keep a recorder near their baby.” This, he said, was a very time-consuming manual process, but at least it was a start. Then, “as soon as it became possible, we developed our own machine, which was basically a recorder that filtered out all sounds that weren’t baby cries”. This, he explained, was good for privacy and also meant that they no longer had to spend many hours manually filtering the recording to check if they had picked up baby or toddler cries. other sounds. “It really started giving us data,” he said.

A baby’s “own language”

The company’s CEO also highlighted the role of prosody in babies’ early development, which is essentially their ability to recognize and communicate via melodic intonations rather than speech. This is ingrained in them from the very beginning of their development, while they are in the womb. It’s a baby’s “own language,” Iannone said, and it’s at the heart of the company’s research.

The next step will be to hit the market, which Iannone told us Zoundream is aiming to do by the summer of this year. First, they aim to provide their third-party machine learning software to third parties in Europe and Asia through already established partnerships with organizations and brands. “For the past three years, we’ve given away free devices [called BabyT] who do the scream detection and translate the screams to whoever wants them,” Iannone said. “They get it for free, they can keep it for as long as they want, and we keep the data for research purposes. .”

And what about the privacy of baby data? Are parents happy with Zoundream’s work so far? So far, “parents love the technology,” the company’s CEO told us, also explaining that why they use it differs depending on parents’ needs. “So they all like it for different reasons,” he said. “So generally speaking it’s not that they have no idea what the baby wants most of the time. Sometimes it’s like that, especially for [parents having] the first child. But in other situations, it’s like, ‘I think I knew what the baby wanted, but I still like having that confirmation.'”

“So it adds that reassurance. Because the first few months are tough, they’re really tough,” Iannone said, explaining that he’s a father himself and has been there.