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Softbank readies pint-size smart speaker

Collaboration with robot startup set to debut this year

Softbank will enhance the Plen Cube smart speaker's language capabilities.

TOKYO -- SoftBank is teaming up with an Osaka-based robotics startup to offer a portable smart speaker within the year.

The SoftBank Group unit will provide natural language processing and voice synthesis technologies for Plen Cube, a compact personal assistant device developed by Plengoer Robotics. The Wi-Fi-enabled Plen Cube, which runs on an internal battery, includes a facial recognition feature and responds to voice commands from the user. It can be instructed to show a smartphone video on a compatible TV, for example.

With the enhanced language capabilities, the smart speaker will respond to Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. It will be marketed in Japan, Singapore, South Korea and North America. The price has yet to be set.

Smart speakers can field a variety of requests, including playing music or conducting online searches based on voice commands. As a growing array of devices and electronics become connected to the internet, many companies see these speakers as a digital hub in the home. introduced the Echo smart speaker in 2014, followed by Google's Home in 2016. Japanese counterparts have entered the market, with NTT Docomo slated to release a Japanese-compatible product this summer. Offerings from Sony and Sharp are also in the works.


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