Bookbot for Early Readers
Teaching early childhood literacy in the most effective way
Pitch us on your solution
The problem we are solving is increasing literacy rates for all children by making effective teaching easily accessible. The essential first step to reading is to develop phonemic awareness by linking individual letters (graphemes) to sounds (phonemes).
Our solution is an app that will give an early reader fun exercises in letters and their sounds, and listen to them (utilising specialised on-device speech recognition) while they verbalise those sounds - giving them the instant feedback that they need to build skills and confidence.
This solution is the first of its kind to bring high quality, meaningful tuition to children using advanced speech recognition that can hear individual sounds. It is like having a teacher sitting beside a child, teaching them the sounds, listening to them practice and providing immediate feedback.
This solution will help the millions of new readers globally that need to go through this first step to achieve literacy.
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What is the problem you are solving?
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society.’ Kofi Annan.
The English language uses an alphabetic writing system in which the letters, singly and in combination, represent single speech sounds. People who can take apart words into sounds, recognise their identity, and put them together again have the foundation skill for using the alphabetic principle (Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989; Troia, 2004). This is a basic skill required before a child can become an effective reader.
This skill can be taught by providing explicit instruction in speech-sound awareness. The early years represent a crucial window to teach these skills and pave the way to becoming confident readers and writers.
This effective tool for teaching the foundations for literacy is not currently easily accessible. Children not only need to be taught speech-sound awareness, they must practice their understanding in order to become fluent. This requires someone to listen to them as they break down letters and sounds, and to provide immediate feedback. The resources required for this are significant: one-on-one or small group lessons with a trained teacher.
Who are you serving?
The solution will serve every young child learning to read the English language, wherever they live and whatever their circumstance. Our solution makes it possible to learn these valuable skills even when classrooms or teachers are not accessible.
We will work with early learning institutions to enable them to successfully teach these vital initial reading skills to every young child by providing an app that requires limited resources. Optimal one-on-one learning opportunities can be provided regardless of budget and staffing constraints: all that is required is a device.
Use of the app will address every young child's pre-school reading needs, ensuring they are best prepared for the next stage of their reading journey.
An additional benefit of the app is the ability to identify at risk children: those who struggle with developing these early stage phonemic skills and are highly likely to fall significantly behind in the early primary years due to learning difficulties such as dyslexia. This population accounts for as many as 20% of children. Early identification will enable intervention when it is required most and will have the most impact.
What is your solution?
Our solution is an app - Bookbot for early readers. This app introduces the letters and sounds of the English language in an engaging and fun way. It uses techniques learnt from best practice research to embed these lessons: multisensory teaching supported by opportunity to practice and receive immediate feedback.
Using a device such as a mobile phone or tablet, the child is taught the lesson and is given the opportunity to practice the skill they have been taught by sounding out the letters. Bookbot ‘listens’ to the child as they practice, and provides help if they struggle.
This is based on technology we have developed for children in primary school. A demo of that technology can be found here.
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Where is your solution team headquartered?Melbourne VIC, Australia
Our solution's stage of development:
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New business model or process
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Our solution is innovative because there is no other accurate voice recognition that can recognise phonemes, a vital skill in developing early literacy skills. Not only that, it can do it in real time and without an internet connection.
Because it will process speech on the device, it will not incur server fees, allowing us to release it for free for those vulnerable people who need it the most.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
We've trained a speech model with thousands of hours of children voices. The speech model has been developed from the ground up with our own data.
The benefit of this speech model is that is will be small enough to fit in devices that are a few years old and will not take up much processing power.
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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
We know that mastering phonemic awareness is the first step to becoming literate and that it is essential for children to learn these skills in the early years. This is supported by significant research.
Teaching phonemic awareness requires:
A teacher or tutor
Opportunity to practice skills with immediate feedback
These are not openly available to many pre-schoolers. Bookbot removes these barriers and makes the learning of phonemic skills accessible to all pre-schoolers giving them the best possible start.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
At this point in time we are still developing the speech model.
In one year we are hoping to serve the millions of children in English speaking countries.
As the speech model matures and we can get more global data, we see that we would introduce Bookbot to the hundreds of millions of children that could use this.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
It is a bold goal, but we hope to have a transformational impact on millions of lives by making literacy achievable to anyone who wants to learn to read, regardless of their geographical or financial situation.
The first stage will involve English speaking audiences, or those who would like to learn English. Whilst the app will develop initial phonemic skills, it can teach beyond that stage right up to established and confident readers.
We hope to work with influential organisations across the globe to enable free distribution to the most vulnerable young people, and giving the gift of literacy to all.
Ultimately, we will release the app to any country, in any language - our technology will enable us to do that and the possibilities are mind blowing!
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
We are confident that we have an extremely powerful tool in Bookbot and are excited by the potential it has to really make a difference to literacy.
Our most significant immediate barrier is financial: we require investment for research and development in core technology in order to develop Bookbot to its full potential.
We also need further finance to develop the business. We envisage working with strategic partners in order to distribute the app amongst worldwide users. These partners will work internationally with pre-school and primary aged children of all backgrounds as well as children with reading disabilities such as dyslexia.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We are securing external funding. We have applied to a number of grants including the Amex Small Business Grant, Startmate and The City of Melbourne startup grant.
We have been successful in securing an AMP Tomorrow Fund grant and funding from through Remarkable.
We are currently seeking funding through Microsoft, with whom we have become a partner through our involvement in the Remarkable accelerator programme.
We are in the process of speaking with a number of potential investors.
Our current product has secured some sales, contributing a small cash flow.
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How many people work on your solution team?
Full-time: 2. Part time: 3. Contractors: 3
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Bookbot was created by an impressive founding team made up of passionate multi-skilled personnel.
Debs and Belinda are both teachers with specific experience in phonics and MSL - this is crucial to us because the educational credence of Bookbot is paramount.
With over 20 years as a software developer, Adrian brings a wealth of technical, project management and partnership experience.
Duc Tran, an experienced software developer, has worked with Adrian for five years and will continue to develop Bookbot for iOS and Android.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
We are currently working with Remarkable, Australia’s first accelerator for early-stage startups creating technology to positively impact life for people with a disability.
We are also working with Microsoft who are allowing us to utilise their Azure technology for free and who have been providing advice and support with machine learning technology and developing our speech model.
What is your business model?
We will release the app for a free trial period of one week, and then charge a one-off payment of $5US to use the app. For developing countries this will be released for free.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
It will be a combination of grants, capital raising and selling the app.
Why are you applying to Solve?
We are applying to Solve for a number of reasons:
- Help in distributing the app for free in developing countries with the right organisations
- Introduction to potential pilot users
- Exposure and introductions to funding organisations
- Advice on additional fundraising strategies
- Meet potential partners at SOLVE events or obtain introductions through SOLVE
- Meeting with other Solvers and learning how they’ve solved certain business problems.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
UNICEF and other influential international organisations: distributing the app for free in developing countries
Governments: providing the app to pre-schoolers in preparation for primary school
Literacy organisations such as The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation: learning from their experience
- Introductions to funders who are interested in the education and literacy space
- Child care providers such as Good Start Early Learning: partnering to pilot the technology
- Apple and Google: marketing and distribution of the app
If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.
We need to do more training and testing of the app. In order to do this we would like to collect more children’s voices from different countries and in different environments.
If you would like to apply for the Innovation for Women Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
Two of our co-founders are women and our research has identified that mums are the literacy champions in the household.
Literacy is every child's right, yet 37 million girls around the world are missing out on primary school. We would love to be able to share our app with girls who would otherwise not have access to education.
If you would like to apply for the Innospark Ventures Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.
We use children's voice data to train our models. We have a privacy option, so a parent can opt-out.