Michael Bond, founder of Spoken AAC and the new app Spoken, was inspired to design something that could help his grandmother who had recently suffered from a stroke. Spoken is a predictive speech app designed to help stroke patients or anyone who needs help speaking, communicate their needs through technology without using their voice.
Bond, along with Sophia Kostoff and Matt Dennewitz pitched their idea at Start-Up Chile which is an incubator accelerator program funded by the Chile government. Thousands apply but only dozens get into the program. Bond and his team were fortunate enough to gain a spot and given a grant to start and run their company in Chile for six months.
Bond appreciated the chance to work in such an atmosphere that was created by all the teams taking place in Startup Chile.
“Everyone was kind of throwing things against the wall and seeing what stuck,” Bond said with regards to the ideas that were flowing.
There was also a competition aspect of the program. There was a demo day held at the end of the program and the Spoken app took home first place.
“It is great to get that kind of feedback and confirmation that you are on the right track,” Bond said.
Bond notes that he enjoys solving problems, and when looking for an app to help his grandmother with communication, he noticed that his problems lined up with his interests. It was a crossover between technology and design, both things that Bond finds interesting.
“I was more interested in why a sophisticated predictive speech app didn’t exist,” Bond said.
The app is different from it’s competitors because it truly does predict the next word the user will say based on data it has collected. Instead of looking at pictures and tapping them and having the device say them, this app allows the patient to speak in normal sentences. The app can also remember names and learn patterns from how the user speaks.
Common complaints of stroke patients include that it is tiring to type out multiple sentences when it is the only way to get the words out. Now, with Spoken, users can communicate feelings and memories effortlessly.
“It is interesting to see all the people we are serving along the way,” Bond said.
Spoken is a great tool for stroke patients, but it can benefit others as well. Bond predicts that it may be able to help people with ALS, autism, and deafness in the future. Also, people who have undergone throat surgery have shown an appreciation for the app.
The app is a great tool for anyone suffering speech impairment, but can it help with treating the problem? Bond notes that he isn’t a trained Speech therapist, and most people have one of three outlooks on this theory. The first is that of course it can help! The second is no, there’s no possible way. And the third is that they have no idea. Despite varying opinions, many people see these types of tools as giving people a crutch that they will need to give up eventually.
“My angle is more outside of that, the people using this app are getting therapy perhaps one hour a week, but the other hours of the week they don’t care if it is a crutch, they need something to help them communicate,” Bond said.
Spoken isn’t a form of therapy, but it is one useful tool in a patient’s tool box.
The app will be released in the fall, before the end of this year and will be available for android and apple users. The recommended format for the app is a tablet, but it will work on smartphones as well. The installation will be free, and if the user feels they are benefitting from the app they are eligible to upgrade to higher functions for a small fee.
“We want people to be able to use the app, even if they don’t have a cent to pay for it,” Bond said.
The next step for the Spoken team is to look at global outreach. Bond mentions that stroke treatment is rapidly increasing throughout the world, so instead of people dying from strokes, they are losing their ability to talk. This creates a demand for an accessible app that will work in multiple languages.
“The next step is figuring out how to make cheaper technology available to the world,” Bond said.
To learn more about the app, please visit http://www.spokenaac.com/