A new experimental application on Android aims to make communication easier for people with speech and motor impairments, Google announced today. The Look to Speak app lets users choose preselected phrases on their phone screen with their eyes. It’s available to everyone and is compatible with Android 9.0 and above, including Android One.
Richard Cave, a highly specialist speech and language therapist at Google, works with people who have speech and motor impairments, especially people who are nonverbal and need assistance communicating. “It’s more than a job for me, it’s a passion,” Cave said in a blog post announcing the app. “Every day, I strive to help people find easier and more accessible ways to express their everyday needs, opinions, feelings and identity.”
The app is meant to work on a mobile device and in support of more sophisticated assistive technologies. After positioning the phone slightly below eye level, a user looks left or right to choose from the list of phrases, which the device then speaks aloud. The phrases can be personalized to let users share their authentic voices, Cave notes. According to Google, all data in the Look to Speak app is private and never leaves the phone.
One drawback: the app’s setup helper menu, which is where the phrases can be edited and the gaze settings can be fine-tuned, is not accessible by eye gaze and requires manual tapping on the phone’s screen.
Look to Speak is one of Google’s Start with One, Invent for Many projects on its Experiments with Google platform. The projects all begin working with one person to try to make something for a larger community. Other projects included the Infinite Bad Guy, a so-called infinite music video for the Billie Eilish song, and Teachable Machine, a web tool that allows users to create machine learning models with no coding required.
Cave says Look to Speak reached out to people who could benefit from the app and found it was helpful in environments where other accessibility devices may not be usable, such as in transit, in the shower, in urgent situations, or outdoors. “Now conversations can more easily happen where before there might have been silence, and I’m excited to hear some of them,” he said.