If you’re a parent who’s missed being able to give your kids a semblance of school-like schedule while they’ve been holed up at home, Google’s latest features may be able to help. The company today announced a new tool called Family Bell that can bring a familiar school bell experience to your home. It will work on all Assistant-enabled smart speakers and displays, including third-party devices from Lenovo and JBL. Google also unveiled features like a daily “Animal of the day” activity, Broadcast Targeting and a new command that kicks off a routine to start the school day. All of these are rolling out today, if not later this week, and will be available in English in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and India.
With Family Bell, you can ask the Assistant to “create a family bell” at specific times of day and have the chime play on the devices you select. If you have multiple Google devices in your home, you could set a “Recess time” bell at noon in your kid’s room or your study, for example, but leave your office speaker silent. You can also set these bells to repeat on whichever days of the week you wish — just as you would set an alarm on your phone. There isn’t a limit to the number of bells you can set, and you can also make multiple bells go off at the same time. So say you want a chime to go off when you’re due for a virtual PTA meeting at the same time your child should begin their next lesson, you can create a bell for each.
Google only offers just one option for the chime sound at the moment, and the company’s product manager for the Assistant Yashodha Bhavnani told Engadget that in their testing, children responded well. “Kids love the sound of the bell,” she said. But it’s not just them — pets also learned to correlate the chime to feeding or walk times. “In one case, the dog became so accustomed to hearing the bell that every time it would start ringing, he would start wagging his tail and barking because he knew it was time to go for a walk,” Bhavnani added.
This is obviously best suited for families to create an environment that’s similar to a campus with school bells that go off every hour or so, but it could also help anyone that needs an auditory reminder of upcoming events. Those of us working at home where hours blend into each other could use it to set a Lunchtime reminder during midday, or a cue to start a workout. Instead of having to set a reminder every day or have an alarm that doesn’t say anything, Family Bell seems easier to set up and can read out what each chime’s label is.
The other new tools company announced today also have to do with making it easier to run a school-like experience at home. When you tell Assistant “School is in session” or “start the school day,” for example, your smart speakers and displays will play “familiar sounds of school like ruffling through their lockers,” according to senior director of product management for the Google Assistant Lilian Rincon. You can also set up your smart lights to glow in red and yellow to set the mood, and smart displays will also show graphics to match the academic theme. Rincon says this feature is meant to help get kids excited about school.
Another feature that should make it easier to use Google’s smart devices is Broadcast Targeting. While the existing Broadcast tool lets you send a message to all Google devices in your home at once, Targeting will let you specify which speaker or display to use. This turns your home of smart gadgets into basically an intercom system.
Finally, Google Assistant’s Animal of the Day cue lets your kid (or let’s face it, you too) learn more about a different animal every day. When you ask about the daily critter, Assistant will tell you some facts about it, play the sound it makes and even issue “a creative daily challenge like drawing what the animal looks like,” according to Rincon.
While these features might not completely replicate the schoolgoing experience, some, like Family Bell, can introduce a semblance of a routine to your lives. Others, like the daily animal cue, can add a dose of fun to your kid’s education.