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The 2015 State of the Speech Technology Industry: Assistive Technology

By Michele Masterson - Posted Feb 10, 2015
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One of the big speech technology stories this year was in the often forgotten assistive market. Suddenly, we saw a plethora of products designed to help the disabled, including the hearing impaired, blind, and those with other physical limitations, such as cerebral palsy and aphasia. While Nuance Communications remains a dominant force in the assistive arena, a number of start-up companies burst onto the scene as well.

The End of Isolation

One young company, MotionSavvy, understands the sense of disconnectedness the hearing impaired might feel. The firm is helmed by deaf and hearing-impaired engineers who brought design and programming skills from former employers including Microsoft, Nintendo, and Railcomm. The team developed UNI, an assistive device for the deaf that employs speech recognition and gesture, and features a tablet, mobile app, and smart case.

"Every aspect of interaction with a hearing person is difficult, to the point that we feel hopeless," wrote Ryan Hait-Campbell, CEO and cofounder of MotionSavvy, in an email to Speech Technology magazine. "We feel so hopeless that there is nothing that can be done. We are trying to give deaf people the ability to live the life that they want without any limits."

UNI employs text-to-speech (TTS) software from Microsoft and an automatic speech recognition (ASR) engine from Nuance Communications to convert American Sign Language to English speech or text and vice versa. Additionally, LEAP motion technology is used to convert signs to speech so that the hearing impaired can also understand what is being communicated. In the fall of 2014, MotionSavvy launched a campaign on crowdfund site Indiegogo to roll out mass production of UNI.

About the same time, another start-up, Transcense, unveiled technology that can also help the hearing impaired. The company's app is geared toward groups of people—for example, meeting participants or a family gathering—and translates verbal conversations in real time for the deaf user.

The company explains that Transcense connects to smartphone microphones in a room that capture conversations. Using ASR, the spoken conversation is interpreted to smartphones with a delay of two seconds or less for transcription, and an accuracy rate of up to 95 percent. Currently, Transcense is available in beta on the Android platform, with iOS and Windows versions to come. "Our goals include expanding to laptops and wearables like Google Glass and smart watches," the company said in a statement. As with MotionSavvy, Transcense has launched a campaign on Indiegogo for further development and scalability.

Yet a third start-up, RogerVoice, has developed a mobile app for the hearing impaired that captions phone conversations in real time. This company's target market includes those who lose their auditory functioning with age—according to RogerVoice, there is a 40 percent possibility that people will lose their hearing after the age of 65. The app is able to transcribe more than eight languages and can be used on desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones.

The initial RogerVoice rollout is supported by Android with iOS and Windows compatibility to come, depending on further funding for development. Like the other start-ups, RogerVoice relies on donations, in this case from Kickstarter. Additionally, the company says that to accommodate the profoundly deaf population unable to speak, RogerVoice wants to offer text-to-speech synthesis in the future, as well as video calls.

It's not a coincidence that the solutions, along with other assistive technologies, are hitting the market at the same time.

"These technologies are coming together at the perfect moment," Hait-Campbell stated. "Technologies for the deaf are finally coming out because technology has become cheaper and more advanced. It has taken so long because the big corporations that 

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