Anyone with any sort of hearing loss will be well versed in the problems of trying to follow a conversation that’s not one-to-one, never mind being able to take part in and actively contribute to it.
The problem is, of course, made far worse in background noise like in a restaurant. Or if you are walking in a group, trying to eat at the same time, or travelling in a car. For people with hearing loss, it can be isolating, exhausting and deeply frustrating. It may lead to some people avoiding certain group situations altogether.
We are a Dutch Start-up called SpeakSee. Both of my parents are profoundly deaf and I have seen how difficult some situations can be. For people with a severe hearing loss, formal or informal group situations are just about impossible to follow. I’ve seen this with my own father, for example, a technical engineer, who can’t follow work meetings. He has to find out what was discussed afterwards.
We provide a solution to this all too common problem and we’re coming to the UK this summer to trial a new system aimed at overcoming the issue.
The SpeakSee solution is targeting several environments; from work meetings to social situations and any other gathering of more than two people, although it can also be used for one-to-one conversations as a standalone mic.
After dozens of interviews with people with varying degrees of hearing loss we have developed a prototype for two proposed solutions.
The first is to use the speech-to-text functionality on its own and the second is to stream the speech to a hearing aid or cochlear implant. You could also, if preferable, use a combination of both solutions. The combination of the two allows the user to glance at the text, see what they’ve missed, and re-join the conversation.
The basic speech-to-text idea is simple. Microphones the size of a USB stick – you can use up to 10 microphones - are given to participants of the conversation. The system captures voices after a microphone is clipped to the speaker’s shirt, before transcribing the spoken words into text in less than a second. The person with hearing loss can then read who said what thanks to the colour-coded transcript as it appears on their mobile phone on the SpeakSee app.
“You can start the conversation right away after distributing the mics – there’s no set-up time or effort involved. With this solution we want to help overcome the barriers many people who are deaf or have hearing loss face when it comes to group situations.”
For those who prefer audio, a different option is to use hearing aids or cochlear implants, which the Speaksee microphones can be made compatible with. Because the microphones are placed near the mouth, and make use of background noise cancelling technology, the speech clarity is greatly enhanced. A necklace with a receiver is used to make the system compatible with nearly all hearing aids and cochlear implants using the Telecoil setting. After a conversation, the microphones are just placed in a dock where they can be charged up.
In November we will be testing a prototype of the solution with 30 people who are deaf or have hearing loss, mostly from the UK. We are keen to meet people who are deaf or have hearing loss to try out our product so that we can create an affordable and fit for purpose product. We want to make this product accessible for everyone, not just people who can afford it.
Our approach means we’re really keen to involve users as much as we can, and to receive (and act on) input from as many potential users as possible. So, if you'ree interested and want to stay up to date with our development, please visit our website and leave your email address, or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org