Cutting-Edge Tech Gives a Synthetic Voice to the Voiceless
When a person can’t use audible speech to communicate, technology already exists that can allow some people to talk using a computerized voice. Generally people need to use apps or computer programs where you type in what you want to say and the phone or tablet speaks it aloud.
Until now, every person who utilized the technology has had the same voice — which sounds deep and computerized. But thanks to VocaliD, that’s changing.
“You see a 3-year-old girl using that voice, and then you see a 40-year-old male using that voice, and it’s odd. It can’t really be an extension of the individual if someone else has that same voice,” Rupal Patel, associate professor at Northeastern University and the developer behind VocaliD told The Huffington Post. “That was when we first started thinking: ‘Isn’t there a way to make these voices more personalized?”
Patel uses technology to blend a person’s unique speech with a healthy speaker’s voice to create a sound that is “understandable but unique to the person that we want to build it for.”
For Samantha Grimaldo, the teenager with whom Patel is working to develop the speech program, the information in her brain doesn’t flow to the muscles used for speech. “I don’t use my voice to talk, but I use my iPhone,” Grimaldo said. Grimaldo called the default voice she’s been using “weird.”
“Because of the way it sounds, she doesn’t want to use the phone as much, especially in public,” Grimaldo’s mother, Ruane, said. In order to create a special voice for Grimaldo, Patel took recordings of Grimaldo saying different vowels and blended them with another speaker’s voice.
Grimaldo’s mother said she was thrilled with the result, and that she could hear some of Samantha’s voice in it. “We’re just so grateful that this could happen for her,” Ruane said. “She’s going to have a full life because of people like Rupal, who really want to help.”
“There’s nothing better than seeing the person who’s actually going to use it, seeing their reaction, seeing their smile,” Patel said.