Need for innovative tech
Having casual conversations with friends and family may seem like mundane activity. What is equally true is that this is not a reality for many in our world. The act of effectively expressing oneself is not as easy for those with neurological conditions.
The struggle is much worse for children growing up with speech and other cognitive disabilities as they grapple emotionally and physically in communicating and interpreting the world to those around them to their parents, making it a struggle for all involved.
Science and technology have, however, always strived to find solutions to the most pressing of human problems. TCS’ AI communication device for speech impaired persons is the outcome of one such endeavor.
Acute communication problems
As part of a larger social innovation endeavor, a TCS Rapid Labs team was working on designing and developing a virtual rehabilitation tool that aimed to improve the gross motor and fine motor movements, and in turn the quality of life, of children affected by neurological conditions. It was at this time that the team also interacted with children suffering from cerebral palsy, who had speech and communication challenges as a result of the condition.
Research also showed that there were no affordable solutions or devices available to help them communicate.
It led to the creation of a technology-led enabler that helps children with neuro-muscular disabilities to improve their quality of life through effective communication.
Staggering numbers and societal neglect
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) says that at least 93 million children live with some form of disability; 15-20% of physically handicapped children suffer from cerebral palsy.
Statistics also reveal that one in four persons with cerebral palsy face problems with communication. Marginalization and exclusion in terms of access to education, for instance, are a direct outcome of this.
To add to these challenges, the existing communication tools in the market are generally high priced—around USD 1,600—and rarely affordable, making them impractical for most people with neurological conditions. In addition to the exorbitant rates, there are usability issues with 80% of such children as they are extremely difficult to operate.
AI, Morse patterns to read gestures
The AI-based communication device for speech impaired persons currently works as a communication aid for over a thousand children with cerebral palsy, across multiple non-governmental organizations. Using the first-of-its-kind customized Morse keypad with speech output, it provides multiple options for communication based on the child’s motor skills.
Most of the children who use the device suffer from a condition called ‘athetoid’ that makes them move their heads rapidly and involuntarily. The device leverages AI to differentiate between athetoid and voluntary gestures. It calibrates automatically to produce accurate speech.
All of these technological features are packaged in a band that can easily be worn on any operational limb of the child to convert even their most minimal gestures into speech using Morse patterns.
Winner of NASSCOM Engineering ER&D Awards’ Social Impact of the year 2021, the device has brought to parents the life-altering experience of hearing their children’s natural sounding voice. The device has made a difference not only to the lives of many children, but also the individuals in the child’s caregiving ecosystem—such as parent, teacher, and therapist.
Besides the emotional satisfaction of impacting over 3,000 lives, this empowerment tool has also increased the speed of communication and learning in children; there has been a 65% reduction in time spent on communication. The children also have a higher chance of success academically. Furthermore, the device is economical—available under USD20—compared to similar devices in the market.
The hope that possibilities bring
TCS’ AI communication device for speech impaired children not only empowers them with speech, but it also helps them build self-confidence, be more independent, and seamlessly go about their everyday lives.
The device, which was already in use in schools, helped a great extent after the COVID-19 pandemic began, ensuring continual learning rehabilitation and communication at home. The use of the technology can also be extended to other speech related difficulties, patients with Parkinson’s disease, as well as autism spectrum disorder.
In addition, the assistive technology can be leveraged by enterprises worldwide to scale their corporate social responsibility initiatives, in line with the purpose-driven 3E—empathize, engage, and empower—business model that aims to enhance empathy and ethics in the society.
TCS Rapid Labs’ aims to continue with low-priced inventions and interventions in the social innovation space and help improve more lives globally.