This Smart Speaker Is Designed to Help You Learn Chinese

Maybe
Maybe

This latest in smart speaker technology isn’t designed to turn on your Wi-Fi-connected lights or help you figure out a wine pairing. Lily, a new smart speaker now available on Indiegogo, can help you learn Chinese writing and speaking “faster than anything on the market,” according to its creators.

The voice-controlled gadget is equipped with artificial intelligence that allows it to engage in real-time conversations, so beginning to advanced students can learn to speak the Chinese language Mandarin. It can correct pronunciation, perform translations, and help you learn vocabulary through interactive games, too. It helps you learn to write with an associated app where you can practice using both Pinyin and Chinese characters. Lily’s curriculum can also prepare you for the HSK Chinese proficiency exams necessary to work or study in China.

A Lily speaker conversation illustrated with text bubbles that read 'Hey Lily, how do I introduce myself?' and '你好,你叫什麼名字'
Maybe

Designed by the language-learning company Maybe—which is based in San Francisco and Shenzhen—with Chinese tutors, the AI is engineered to recognize different accents, even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect.

Language learning is all about repetition, and unless you live in an area with a large Chinese population, you may not have much opportunity to practice your Mandarin in everyday life. A smart speaker like Lily can provide the next best thing by creating an immersion environment for you at home, putting it a step ahead of other language-learning apps like DuoLingo.

It’s currently only in the prototype stage, but it’s scheduled to ship by April 2020. As for other languages, the Lily team says that they hope to release software updates in the future that could give the speaker French and Spanish capabilities. (Once you have the speaker, you’ll be able to download any other languages that are released—you won’t have to buy a whole other language-specific speaker.)

The smart speakers start at $229 for early-bird buyers, which may seem like a significant investment, until you start looking at the prices of even a few weeks of private language classes. Get yourself one on Indiegogo. And don't worry about it matching your home decor—it comes in red, white, black, blue, teal, and pink.

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This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

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Thomas Edison’s First Patented Invention—a Voting Machine for Congress—Was a Total Flop

Sadly, Congress voted 'No' on using Thomas Edison's voting machine.
Sadly, Congress voted 'No' on using Thomas Edison's voting machine.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On June 1, 1869, Thomas Edison patented his very first invention: a voting machine meant for Congress.

According to Rutgers University’s Thomas A. Edison Papers Project, the 22-year-old inventor might’ve been inspired to design the device after newspaper reports announced that both the New York state legislature and the city council of Washington, D.C., were investigating means of automating their ballot process. At the time, legislators voted by calling out “Yea” or “Nay” (or something of that nature), and a clerk jotted down their responses one by one.

Edison’s “electrographic vote-recorder” had the names of all the voters listed twice: in a “Yes” column on one side, and a “No” column on the other. When a person flipped a switch to indicate their vote, the machine would transmit the signal through an electric current and mark their name in the corresponding column, while keeping track of the total tally of votes on a dial. After everyone had voted, an attendant would place a sheet of chemically treated paper on top of the columns and press down on it with a metallic roller, imprinting the paper with the results.

thomas edison electrographic vote-recorder patent 1869
The sketch that accompanied Edison's patent.
U.S. Patent 0,090,646, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A telegraph operator named Dewitt Roberts invested $100—about $1754 in today's dollars, according to Tech Times—in the device and set off for an exhibition on Capitol Hill. Alas, members of Congress were completely uninterested, and the committee chairman in charge of deciding its fate declared that “if there is any invention on earth that we don't want down here, that is it.”

The committee didn’t think the vote-recorder streamlined the process enough to be useful, but it’s possible they weren’t too keen on speeding things up in the first place. If the officials didn’t voice their votes aloud, there wouldn’t be any opportunity to filibuster policies or persuade each other to switch their stances—an integral part of congressional proceedings.

Edison, of course, recovered from his first flop. He went on to invent (or at least improve upon) the light bulb, create the cat video, and devise many more notable creations.