SpeakUnique goes live to help people around the world
The result of a collaborative research project, SpeakUnique allows people to create a personalised synthetic voice if they’ve lost, or are at risk of losing, their voice due to a medical condition. And all from the comfort of their own home.
Medical conditions that can affect speech include motor neurone disease, stroke, cancer of the throat or tongue and cerebral palsy. When speech is impaired people often use a communication aid, such as an iPad or eye gaze machine, to speak for them.
These devices come preinstalled with synthetic voices that are very generic and unnatural sounding. This can leave people feeling that they have lost not just the ability to speak, but also a part of their identity.
Founder Euan MacDonald, who lost his voice as a result of MND, came up with the idea of SpeakUnique when he realised that he didn’t want his children to remember him by a voice that wasn’t his own.
SpeakUnique can build users a synthetic voice using less than an hour’s worth of speech that they record in their own home.
There are four voice services offered by the new company.
- Voice Build: a replica of your own voice
- Voice Design: a unique bespoke voice with your choice of regional accent, age or gender
- Voice Repair: a repaired synthetic voice that sounds like your healthy voice before speech symptoms developed
- Voice Save: the opportunity to prospectively bank your voice just in case something were to happen
During the research project, which was based at the Anne Rowling Clinic, over 1600 people from all over Scotland and the UK donated their voices to allow individuals to communicate with a voice that is identifiably their own. We’re so grateful to everyone who supported the project and has helped us get to this point of offering voices to people who need them worldwide!
The service is also based on feedback from over 180 people with a range of medical conditions and healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses and speech and language therapists.
Euan MacDonald, Founder of the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research commented “ We have been delighted to support this venture and see it grow from an idea to a research project. To be able to formally launch is very exciting, as people with MND, amongst others, will be able to bank their voices and receive the best quality synthesised voice in return. I know the benefits first hand as someone who uses my personalised voice through my eye gaze device every day.
“This is a great example of collaboration between the University and private individuals. I’d particularly like to thank my dad Donald for his constant enthusiastic backing of the venture over many years, and likewise my very good friend Tim Campbell for his fantastic support.”
Alice Smith from SpeakUnique said: “ Personalised synthetic voices are valuable not just to the individual, but also to their families as their loved one can maintain a key part of their identity. We are extremely grateful to the 1600 people from all over the UK who donated their voices to the research project, which has allowed individuals to communicate with a voice that is identifiably their own.”
Outcomes from the research project showed that personalised voices help people retain dignity and a sense of control in the face of devastating and incurable diseases. Also that personalised synthetic voices are valuable not just to the individual but also to their families as their loved one can maintain a key part of their identity. Finally the research project demonstrated that high quality and rapid recordings can be undertaken in people’s own homes and that people strongly prefer recording at home rather than travelling to a Clinic or other location.
The research project was funded by
- Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research
- University of Edinburgh Centre for Speech Technology Research
- Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic
- Motor Neurone Disease Association
- Medical Research Council
- Scottish Government
- Innovate UK
The launch of SpeakUnique as a company was supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service.