Speech is perhaps the most primary form of communication among humans, with some research showing that the average person speaks up to 16,000 words a day. However, this basic skill is a struggle for the 1.5 percent of the world’s population living with varied forms of speech impairments, which is why one Israeli company came up with a technology that allows everyone to speak freely.
Free speech for all
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In 2010, Danny Weissberg, the CEO and co-founder of VoiceItt, struggled to have a conversation with his beloved grandmother after she had a stroke—a frustrating process for Weissberg, but an embarrassing one for his grandmother. Weissberg was further frustrated when he realized there was no solution on the market that allowed people with speech impairments to speak clearly and be understood using their own voice. As a result, Weissberg made it his mission to improve the lives of people with speech impairments, their families and caretakers – and that’s when VoiceItt was born.
VoiceItt is currently developing a product called TalkItt, a speech technology app that is able to recognize unintelligible speech and translate it into any understandable language in the speaker’s own voice. “This isn’t standard speech recognition. We are using pattern recognition that is personalized for the speaker. For example, a person with Cerebral Palsy might say ‘sho-ko-la’ when he really means to say chocolate. The app will recognize that based on the user’s own personalized, pre-recorded dictionary,” Weissberg said in a press release.
“To get started, the person speaks a word, and that person or the caregiver associates it with a word on the app in any language they choose. The tablet and smartphone app recalls this translation from the calibrated dictionary and the system is ready to use immediately,” Weissberg explained. According to VoiceItt, TalkItt’s systems are able to recognize any language spoken to it, from Chinese to Klingon, without any need for additional programing.
Crowdfunding brings clear speech to the masses
While the TalkItt team is currently working out of Boston, Massachusetts as part of the MassChallenge Accelerator, one of the largest accelerators in the world, their technology was developed by researchers and engineers in Israel. The software is currently under testing in Israel and Europe at hospitals and universities.
Up until now, much of the funding for TalkItt’s development has been provided by development grants from Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist. The company just announced that it is attempting to raise $50,000 in seed money through Indiegogo, a popular crowdsourcing platform. Pending the success of this campaign, TalkItt should be ready for release in six months, according to Eisenberg. The software will be available through their app, which will have both an iOS and Android version for a subscription fee of $19.99 per month.
Weissberg and the rest of the VoiceItt team hope that TalkItt will begin to improve the lives of the speech impaired as soon as the app is developed. “For millions of people it is very frustrating to order a cup of coffee. We are trying to help them integrate into society using their own personal translator,” Weissberg said. In the future, the company wants to adapt their speech-to-text technology to help people with heavy accents and small children.