Sony’s latest speaker is a soccer ball-sized portable party machine with Google Assistant

Sony’s Extra Bass speakers are pretty easy to spot: they’re big speakers with lots of LED lights and flashing strobes, and they’re designed to make your next block party or backyard gathering extra lit. But at IFA 2018, Sony is announcing the XB501G. It puts all that fun into a smaller, roughly soccer ball-sized package that lets you bring the party with you wherever you go.

The XB501G isn’t just about partying, though. It also has Google Assistant built in, essentially making it a larger, better-sounding Google Home (with strobe lights). There’s also the option to sync up a pair for stereo audio, too.

That said, if you do want to party it up (like the overly happy folks in Sony’s PR images), the XB501G can do it. It’s rated IP65 against splashes and dust, has a built-in handle for easy carrying, and offers 16 hours of battery life, plus the signature colorful lights and strobes. There’s even USB-C!

The XB501G is set to release sometime in October for $299.99.

Google Assistant can now understand two languages at once

Google wants to dominate the IFA tech show in Berlin this week, and it’s already announced integrations in too many gadgets to count. Along with that partner push, the company is announcing a new feature for Google Assistant: it’s bilingual now.

Essentially, if you ask Assistant a question, it will automatically recognize what language you’re speaking and respond in kind. It’s a step toward the goal that Google announced back in February to make Assistant fully multilingual without requiring you to dig into the settings and manually change its language.

You’ll be able to set up Assistant to understand and respond to any two of the following languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese. Google adds that it intends on “expanding to more languages in the coming months.”

The behind-the-scenes tech to make this happen is pretty interesting, as Google explains in an accompanying blog post. To make Assistant receptive to two languages simultaneously, the company created a new language-identification model (which it calls LangID) that runs as soon as the software detects speech.

To support bilingualism, Assistant simultaneously tries to recognize the language of the speaker while transcribing it into two different languages.
Image: Google

You might think that this task of language identification would have to be completed before Assistant can transcribe what’s actually being said. But to make the response as speedy as possible, Assistant actually runs LangID in parallel with two separate language processing models that try to transcribe what’s been said in the user’s two preset languages.

Once LangID has identified the language, Assistant then cancels the incorrect transcription and routes all processing power to focus on the correct one. In order to speed up the process of identification, LangID doesn’t just consider vocabulary; it also signals the frequency at which each language is used and the type of device it’s used with. It’s a complicated process, but it’s necessary to support seamless bilingualism, says Google.

The company has also promised that it will support 30 languages by the end of this year. It’s not quite there yet, but by our count, so far it can understand about 15 languages, including Hindi, Marathi, Indonesian, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, and Swedish. Seven more Indian languages planned for the near future.

The bilingual update, which allows the Assistant to interchangeable switch between two languages, should roll out today.