Innovation for Independence

Voice/Text/Tone – bringing emotions to telephone calls for the hard of hearing.

Publish date:
16/01/2015 - 3:24pm
Last updated:
16/01/2015 - 3:24pm

Often the most life-changing innovations are the simplest. And the simple phone call – an everyday necessity and taken for granted by so many of us – can be extremely challenging for the hard of hearing, either making them feel isolated or vulnerable. Our innovation is a simple plug-in voice recognition service that can be attached to any telephone (either mobile or landline) that not only turns speech into text into real time, but can also identify emotions within voices to enable the user to not only ‘hear’ the conversation, but also ‘feel’ the conversation, too. We will pick up emotions such as amusement, stress, confusion, anger, happiness and sadness – these can be developed over time. With a simple text and emoticon-led interface, our technology will provide the deaf or near-deaf with a genuinely authentic telephone experience, bringing them closer to their loved ones, but also equipping them with far more information when talking to strangers. Such a simple innovation could change the way that people communicate for the long-term, as emotional recognition and people’s true feelings becomes more important than ever. Over time, we could even adapt this idea to bring even greater clarity – incorporating webcams and facial recognition, as well as neuroscience when appropriate!

Insight & Impact

Elderly people and the hard of hearing can feel frustrated by their difficulties communicating via the telephone and as a consequence become socially isolated. In our experience, relatives begin to call less as it is too difficult to have a coherent conversation, which can leave them feeling lonely and without contact for days. This device will enable them to have a clearer conversation in real time. It will also potentially stop elderly or the deaf being taken advantage of by cold callers, who get them to agree to things they clearly cannot understand over the telephone. Messaging services are a great solution, and we know that speech to text services exist, but none on the market go that extra mile. The incredible rise in popularity of emoticons and animated gifs show the significance of emotion in communication – we need to feel what other people are feeling to understand our role in the conversation. This tech solution takes us one step closer to making this a better reality for the hard of hearing.

Skills needed for this project

  • Emotional recognition software and researchers (building on existing products in the market) Trained psychologists working with the space of disability and emotion