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  • August 1, 2020
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Speech Aids in COVID-19 Recovery

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As America slowly started returning to work after months of COVID-19-related shutdowns, speech technologies have been playing a huge role in the recovery efforts.

In early July, Sonde Health launched Sonde One, a voice-enabled app to help companies detect and monitor employees with the coronavirus.

Sonde One leverages the company’s advanced vocal biomarker platform and machine learning technology. With a single six-second voice sample, the app can detect respiratory symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness or pain. The app combines this voice analysis with a COVID-19 questionnaire and the subject’s body temperature to identify which employees have COVID-19 within one minute. Employers can deploy the solution to any number of staff anywhere.

“At Sonde, we believe that voice is a vital sign and a meaningful predictor of health,” said David Liu, CEO of Sonde Health, in a statement. “By analyzing a few seconds of speech, we can detect subtle changes in a person’s voice caused by common symptoms of respiratory disease. We built this capability into the Sonde One app so organizations can provide their employees with simple and fast COVID-19 monitoring in their pocket.”

To bring Sonde One to market, Sonde partnered with corporate wellness solutions provider Wellworks for You to make the tool available to its clients and their 1.4 million participating members.

“After months of remote work and distributed workforces, many employers want to get their employees back in the office; they’re just not sure of the best way to do it,” said Thomas Tegler, president of Wellworks for You, in a statement. “Sonde One is an easy, non-invasive way for organizations to manage employee health risks during the pandemic and get workers back to the office safely.”

SHI International, a provider of technology products and services, is the first company to deploy Sonde One. The company will begin implementing the Sonde One app in August as it gradually begins bringing employees back to the workplace, starting with its Somerset, N.J., headquarters.

“As we navigate this pandemic, our employees’ health and wellness is our top priority,” said Michael Haluska, vice president of human resources at SHI International, in a statement. “From the conference room to the warehouse floor, the Sonde One app will help us standardize our return-to-work policy to eliminate any confusion and keep all employees feeling safe.”

Similar research to detect potential carriers of the coronavirus using voice and speech processing was being conducted at Israel’s Afeka Tel-Aviv Academic College of Engineering with the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

“The target of the project is to develop an innovative algorithm that will be a breakthrough in the identification of potential carriers of the COVID-19 virus,” says Ami Moyal, a speech processing expert and president of Afeka College of Engineering.

Voice and speech samples (recordings) are being collected from COVID-19 patients at various stages of the disease, as well as from healthy individuals. Another control group of COVID-19-negative patients suffering from respiratory symptoms (such as flu symptoms) are also being recorded to differentiate them from COVID-19-positive patients. The goal is to create a representative database to be used in the research.

The data will be processed using a variety of tools, advanced speech processing techniques, and machine learning algorithms.

And once employees are in the office, speech is also helping to stop the transmission of the disease from shared surfaces. Instead of having to touch light switches, temperature controls, doorknobs, keypads, and similar items around the office, companies can deploy voice interfaces similar to those found in smart home systems.

“Voice has already made significant inroads into the smart home space and certain enterprise domains,” says Lian Jye Su, a principal analyst at ABI Research.

A global emphasis on working from home, combined with advice to minimize COVID-19 transmission from shared surfaces, helped cement the benefits of smart home voice control for millions of consumers and enterprises, Su says.

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