A Santa Barbara–Toronto tech company called Cognixion has developed a remarkable new app that unlocks the voices of people silenced by brain injury or disease. Speakprose Pro+ utilizes the latest iPhone and iPad eye-tracking technology to allow users with limited mobility to navigate the screen with their eyes and select letters or words by blinking or holding their gaze. It also leverages facial recognition software to pick up on smiles and other muscle movements.
Launched just weeks ago, the app already has tens of thousands of users and is growing more popular with each passing day. Traditional eye-tracking technology and the hardware that goes with it can run more than $10,000, and more than $56 billion is spent in the United States every year on assistive technologies, mostly through medical insurance reimbursements. Speakprose Pro+ costs $39.00 a month. And while there are other AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) apps on the market, Speakprose Pro+, according to lots of online feedback and reviews, is the best and most affordable.
The idea came to Cognixion founder and Santa Barbara resident Andreas Forsland in 2012. His mother was clinging to life in an intensive care unit and was unable to move or talk. “I was inspired to create a simple, natural way for loved ones to communicate and send moral support,” he said, “no matter the situation.” A free version of the app also allows users without mobility issues to simply tap words and phrases with their fingers that are then spoken through the device. “We always had a plan to make speech accessible from multiple different ways,” Forsland said.
Millions of people across the planet struggle with some kind of communication disability, Forsland explained. Many rely on others for even simple tasks. This app lets them live more independently and not only maintain social connections but also hold down certain jobs. “We just want the world to know it’s available now,” he said. It’s also got artificial intelligence built in so that with each use, it gets better at predicting what the user intends to say.
Now, Cognixion is in the R&D phase of a new direct brain-software technology that will one day let users control a computer with just their brainwaves. A headband with electrodes attached to the scalp will pick up electrical activity and translate it into mouse clicks. “It’s on the horizon,” said Forsland. “We’re making good progress. We’re on a mission to unlock as many voices as we can.”