Speak & Spell was a popular electronic toy that was introduced by Texas Instruments (TI) in 1978. It was a handheld device. It was the first in history to use speech synthesis technology to help children learn how to spell and pronounce words. Here is a general overview of how it worked:
View from the Outside
The user would type in a word on the keyboard, and the device would analyze the word’s phonemes (the individual sounds that make up a word).
The device would use an algorithm called linear predictive coding to create a mathematical model of the word’s sounds. This model would then be used to generate a sequence of numbers that represented the sound wave for that word.
The device would convert these numbers into an analog signal that could be played through a speaker, creating a synthetic voice that would say the word out loud. This was a real departure from previous analog devices.
The device would also display the word on a screen, and the user could practice spelling and pronouncing the word by repeating it back.
Nuts and Bolts
A team at Texas Instruments, headed by Paul Breedlove, developed the technology behind Speak & Spell on a shoestring budget. The original Speak & Spell used a custom-designed digital signal processing (DSP) chip, called the TMS5100, which was developed by Texas Instruments (TI) specifically for the toy. The TMS5100 chip was one of the first DSP chips to be used in a consumer product, and it was a significant breakthrough in the field of speech synthesis.
The TMS5100 was a single-chip solution that included all the necessary components for speech synthesis, including an analog-to-digital converter, a digital-to-analog converter, a pitch generator, and a digital filter. The chip was designed to work in real-time, which allowed for the instantaneous creation of synthetic speech as the user typed in words on the keyboard.
The TMS5100 chip was later replaced by an updated version, called the TMS5110, which was used in later versions of the Speak & Spell, as well as other speech synthesis products.
Although Speak & Spell was extremely popular in the 1980s, its popularity waned in the 1990s as newer electronic toys were introduced. However, TI continued to produce and sell updated versions of the toy until 2006.
Today, vintage Speak & Spell toys are highly sought after by collectors, and they are still remembered as a cultural icon of the 1980s. The technology that powered the toy has also had a lasting impact, and speech synthesis is now used in a wide range of applications, from voice assistants to automated customer service systems.
However, after the success of the original Speak & Spell, other companies began to develop and release similar electronic spelling and learning toys. Some of these toys had similar features and functions to the Speak & Spell, while others offered unique variations and improvements on the original concept.
Examples of similar toys that were released by other companies include the Franklin Spelling Ace, the LeapFrog Phonics Desk, and the Vtech Spelling Bee. These toys were also popular during the 1980s and 1990s and helped to shape the educational toy market during this period.
Speak & Spell was a revolutionary toy when it was first introduced because it was one of the first consumer products to use speech synthesis technology, and it helped to pave the way for the development of other speech-enabled products that we use today, such as voice assistants and GPS navigation systems.
- Year Started: 1978
- Year Ended: 2006
- Origin Of Name: Descriptive
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Texas Instruments
- Owner While In Use: Texas Instruments
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Many kinds of voice recognition tools
- Naics Code: 339930
- Location Headquarters: Dallas, Texas, USA