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Accessible Voice-Activated Technologies in a Voice-First World

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - NUVOIC (Accessible Voice-Activated Technologies in a Voice-First World)

Reporting period: 2021-05-01 to 2022-04-30

Speech impairments may range from mild to severe and refer to an impaired ability to produce speech sounds. People with speech and motor disabilities, as well as elderly with non-standard speech patterns, struggle daily to communicate with people around them. Advances in assistive technologies can help them and pave the way for a more inclusive society. The overall objective of the project is therefore to deliver to the market a novel core speech recognition technology designed to recognize impaired speech. Within this context, the Nuvoic consortium will commercialise two new products (Nuvoic Home and Nuvoic Shop) employing upgraded versions of the core Voiceitt speech technology.
· Nuvoic Home, a mobile application facilitating both human to human communication (translating unintelligible speech) and human to machine interaction (integrating the universally accessible speech technology in a voice-activated connected home context).
· Nuvoic Shop demonstrates Voiceitt’s adaptable speech technology in a specifically designed P&G e-commerce platform. This user-friendly voice activated e-commerce platform initially focusses on addressing the needs of elderly (60+).
With product launches slated for 2022 and 2023, the project will provide affected individuals an innovative technological means to communicate with the people around them, as well as access to the benefits of mainstream voice-driven devices and technologies.
Participants with non-standard speech correlated with a variety of underlying conditions and disorders have been recruited to participate in the Nuvoic data collection and testing activities. The proper procedures and principles of data privacy, ethical research, and informed consent have been followed. Recorded speech data has been collected from Nuvoic participants to support the accelerated development of the core Nuvoic speech technology software, resulting in a large, unique database of non-standard speech. Customer research was completed to evaluate how the Nuvoic voice technology integrated with Nuvoic Home and Nuvoic Shop products can improve elderly and disabled consumers’ lives. Within this reporting period, technical activities were further completed, validated and integrated in the optimised Nuvoic software, thereby increasing independence and quality of life for people with speech and motor disabilities. Voice data has been further collected from participants with speech disabilities recruited through Karten’s extensive network of partner organisations supporting people with disabilities, to bring the technology’s accuracy to a higher and more stable level. In parallel, the partners have designed a prototype of the Nuvoic Home and Nuvoic Shop, which integrates Voiceitt’s technology within new use cases. The overall progress in the project has exceeded the partners original expectations both in the context of the technology development and the commercial opportunities. The ongoing customer engagement and feedback during each stage of Nuvoic’s development ensures that the final outcomes address the needs of the end users, and support the business case and successful adoption of the Nuvoic commercial product.
Both the underlying AI-driven automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology (by its capabilities to recognise and translate highly non-standard speech in various noise environments and in various languages) and the ensuing product (through its accessible interface for people with diverse range of speech, mobility, cognitive and dexterity impairments) are expected to be transformative, progressing beyond state of the art in the industries of speech recognition and assistive technologies (i.e. disability-tech niche market). Within these industries, there are currently no devices or software that can simultaneously recognize non-normal speech patterns, offer real-time communication, enable voice based environmental control, and cater holistically to the dexterity and social inclusivity challenges of individuals with speech disabilities. Especially the API/SDK through integration with other devices/platforms is of utmost importance. Ongoing demand in the recent reporting period has validated the tremendous opportunity of this integration relative to simply the Nuvoic Home mobile app, hence redirecting the focus toward the API/SDK business. This is an extremely exciting opportunity as it will allow Voiceitt to be integrated with nearly any device, software or platform with the technology built during the Nuvoic project. In this respect, the Nuvoic product’s overall advantages to the customer are having all these attributes within one device. Nuvoic Home’s hands-free, and compact attributes enhances the user autonomy, allowing them to operate the device with minimal to no assistants from caregivers. Using the iOS device has the potential to release some of the stigma that arises from using traditional communication devices, whose conspicuous bulkiness highlights the differences between the user and their counterparts. Additionally, its real-time communication in the user's natural voice enhances the quality of understanding between caregivers or health professionals and users.
The activities performed within the context of this project have already yielded initial positive results (as highlighted throughout the deliverables and technical report that described amongst others the description of the trial results, user and caregiver testimonials, and the summary of how the core technology has advanced). For instance, the goal on the technology side is the next-generation “continuous ASR” to commercial level in English, with satisfactory recognition accuracy and the technology has already exceeded milestones by reaching 80% accuracy on unseen phrases (continuous) for dysarthric speech when evaluated in the lab, and over 90% on seen phrases (discrete with active trial participants. The Nuvoic consortium highly benefited from these activities and associated results in achieving its objective to foster greater participation and inclusion for people with disabilities in the workforce, healthcare settings, and social environments as well as greater quality of life and safety during a pandemic era through reduced reliance on caregiver support.
The iOS app is available for free on the app stores and supports our ongoing data collection (crucial to the tech development and building technology awareness). While Voiceitt continuous to sell the app B2B to partner organisations, a complementary opportunity has been identified, i.e. the API business. The latter represents an incredible complementary opportunity for the project outcomes and knowledge acquisition. Moreover, this complementary trajectory will positively impact the project's commercial and impact implications (i.e. greater impact). To accelerate the latter, Voiceitt in collaboration with its partners will be able to grow this impact through dissemination and more enterprise contracts throughout the last stage of the project.