In 1976, after having conquered a major part of the calculators market, the consumer products group at Texas Instruments was searching for another mountain to climb. First time the idea of a Speak and Spell product for children came up, TI management didn't take it seriously.
However, Richard Wiggins, an engineer who was brand-new to TI at the time, took a look at the idea and said: "I think we can do it.". And they did: in june 1978, the speaking bright coloured box was launched. Six months later, the product was a Christmas season hit, and the same sentence resounded in every American toys stores:
Hello! I am Speak & Spell, the electronic learning aid, that challenges you with random questions stored in my brain.
Its popularity with its target audience was given a further boost when a certain adorable alien used it to help him "phone home" in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Both parents and educators appreciated its value as a teaching tool, and their combined seals of approval made Speak & Spell a common sight in homes and schools alike. Its popularity also led to sequel electronic games for other areas of learning like Speak & Math and Speak & Read.
The technology behind the toy was a result of Texas Instruments early investigations into speech synthesis. The result was the TMS5110/5220 series, first low cost mass produced DSP chips. They allowed speech data to be stored in a highly compressed format, which was very important in the days when ROM space was expensive; and synthesized speech using a method know as Linear-Predictive Coding (LPC). More than 100 seconds of linguistic sounds could be stored into a 128 KB ROM chip. Same chips were used in the TI 99/4 Home Computer Voice module.
Nowadays, DSP technology is everywhere. People can now send voice as well as live video over a cellular phone. In 2000, the programmable DSP market generated more than $6 billion in sales. Texas Instruments claimed 48 percent of that market.