Move over Alexa, new voice assistant from BBC will understand British accents

Rob Waugh
Could a British challenger take the fight to Amazon? (Photo by Olly Curtis/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

So far, voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant have been resolutely American - but next year, they’ll face a home-grown challenger.

And the BBC hopes that its British-made voice assistant will be capable of understanding regional accents from Lowestoft to Lerwick.

The ‘wake word’ for the device could be ‘Beeb’ - and the BBC hopes it will run on existing smart speakers, rather than users having to buy new gadgets.

The broadcaster says that by having an assistant of its own it can freely experiment with new programmes, features and experiences without being forced to seek permission from someone else to build it in a certain way.

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Corporation staff across the country have been asked if they would be willing to record their voices for a couple of minutes to make sure that the virtual assistant is able to understand the UK's diverse range of accents.

'Around one in five adults have a smart speaker in their home - and millions more have voice-activated devices in their pockets - so there is growing demand from people to access programmes and services with their voice,' a BBC spokesman said.

'But people are concerned about how these devices use their data. Much like we did with BBC iPlayer, we want to make sure everyone can benefit from this new technology, and bring people exciting new content, programmes and services - in a trusted, easy-to-use way.

'This marks another step in ensuring public service values can be protected in a voice-enabled future.'

The BBC is working on the service with the same team behind the CBeebies Bedtime stories and interactive games.

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