Kelowna’s Kukarella changes the ‘text-to-speech’ game
Saturn Animation Studios Inc, a Kelowna-based tech company, has created an innovative ‘text-to-speech’ platform called Kukarella. It gives its users access to the largest online library of voices – a total of 300 voices across 60 languages and accents – all in a user-friendly interface.
Last year, Kukarella took advantage of our Tech Co-op Grants Program (TCGP) and used the funding to hire a UBC Okanagan student to help build the platform.
We sat down with the Director of Saturn Animation Studios Inc. and creator of Kukarella, Nazim Ragimov, to learn more about how the grant has helped them and what’s next for the company.
Q: What do you do and why do you do it?
Nazim: Have you ever tried to convert text-to-speech online? It’s difficult to find something that works well. We came across this issue last year when we were working on a mobile application that had a virtual consultant speaking several languages. Instead of hiring actors, we wanted to save time and money by using online voice-overs. Unfortunately, the voices available were either too synthetic, difficult to use, or unjustifiably expensive.
Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM have created the best computer voices, but the average user has great difficulty working with them as you need to be able to code just to make one simple text-to-speech conversion. So, we decided to build our own tool using their voices. As a result, we created the largest library of online voices accessible through a simple interface for only $5 a month. This compares to other services who offer access to far fewer voices for over $50 a month.
Q: Why did you choose to hire a co-op student? How did they help your company?
Nazim: Jordan Emslie joined our team in January last year when we were working on a different project. The project pivoted as we saw the need to create a multilingual virtual assistant. Within two weeks he put together a working prototype and two months later we published a beta version. I’m very impressed that a co-op student was able to create a functional Saas platform in just two months! We’ve continued to hire co-op students and I find they bring great value to our company. For the last 7 months Jasper Looman, also from UBC Okanagan, has been working with us on Kukarella as well as some other projects.
Q: Was it beneficial to your business to receive a Tech Co-op Grant from us?
Nazim: Thanks to this funding we were able to conduct research and afford experiments that brought this project into a working state. I admire how the province of B.C. supports small businesses. The government, and organizations like Innovate BC, give you a chance to build a business and don’t ask for a share of anything in return. We’re very lucky to live and work here.
Q: What’s next for Kukarella? Are there any big projects on the horizon?
Nazim: We are currently prototyping a unique tool that will allow scriptwriters to narrate their scripts using multiple voices. Typically, a production company would need to get the whole team together to do this, which requires a lot of time and money. Using our tool, this can be done in a few minutes by selecting any of the voices in our library for about the same cost as parking in Vancouver for a half-hour.
Q: What has been Kukarella’s biggest success to date?
Nazim: When we first started to work on Kukarella, it appeared to be an interesting tool that would be useful for our studio and possibly for some indie designers. The project took on a life of its own and has developed rapidly. Our user base has grown an average of 40% over the past six months showing that there is a demand for Kukarella – we’re very excited about that!
Would your company benefit from our Tech Co-op Grants Program? We just increased the funding amount, so now your company could receive up to $20K a year – just for hiring students.