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How voice-activated speakers are lending a virtual hand to parents

Alexa, read me a story. Molly Wood/Marketplace

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Smart speakers, those voice-controlled devices reminiscent of “Star Trek’s” multitasking computer, are finding a place on kitchen counters and in living rooms. They can play music, answer questions, control lights and, in the case of Amazon’s Echo, place shopping orders. Turns out they are lending a virtual hand to parents, too. 

More than half — 57 percent — of smart speaker owners with children recently surveyed by NPR and Edison Research said that entertaining kids was a reason for wanting the voice-activated devices.

Amazon introduced the first smart speaker in 2014 and has since dominated the market. More than three quarters of smart speaker owners surveyed use Alexa (Echo’s digital assistant), according to the NPR and Edison report. Google Home is Echo’s biggest competitor. Apple and Alibaba will launch their own versions this year, while several others are in the works.  

Statistics suggest that smart speaker ownership is growing even within households; 42 percent of owners have more than one device, the study said, and 45 percent plan to buy another.

So how does a talking robot amuse the kids? We asked you to share your experiences and here’s what you told us. 

Sometimes, the questions kids ask are entertaining the adults:

Andy Kruse, our colleague over at APM Reports, knows all about those conversations:

Some thought that digital assistants were unsuitable babysitters:

What about entertaining the other family members who might get bored and destructive if left to their own devices? (We’re talking quadrupeds here.)

If predictions bear out, we’re going to see a lot more smart speakers. The market is expected to soar over the next several years, with market size jumping from about $400 million in 2016 to more than $13 billion in 2024, market research firm Global Market Insights reported in June. The company predicts the market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 50 percent from this year to 2024. Gartner, an information technology research company, estimates that 75 percent of U.S. households will have a smart speaker by 2020. 

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