A researcher giving instructions to a man wearing a headset who is about to bank his voice

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Speak:Unique voicebank research

Speak:Unique voicebank research

Creating personalised voices for use in communications aids, simply and efficiently.

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.

Professor Stephen Hawking (1942- 2018)

Sadly, MND can sometimes leave people unable to speak. This leads to isolation, difficulty communicating, and loss of control, dignity and personal identity.

Some people in this situation choose to use a communication aid or app that can convert text, entered on a keyboard or by eye movements, into a computerised voice. These devices are valuable, but the pre-installed generic or “off the shelf” voices provide a very limited solution.

Speak:Unique, our Voicebank Research Project, aims to help people with MND sound like themselves again, by providing ‘their own’ voice for use in a communication aid.

The technology

Together with speech technology experts at the University of Edinburgh, we have devised a system whereby voice donors can record as little as 100 sentences of specially selected text, which takes about 20 minutes. The computer can then generate all the sounds required for speech.

Importantly, our technology can also ‘repair’ voices, if people’s speech has already become affected by the time they record their voice. We can blend the damaged voice with others from our Voicebank, or with the voice of a close relative.

Our vision

Ultimately, we aim to offer individual bespoke voices to everyone who has a condition that means they are unable to speak or that might cause them to lose this ability. The voices would be:

  • Appropriate in age, gender and regional accent to the individual, and sound like them
  • Simple to use with voice recording performed using an app at home
  • Free to the user via the UK’s NHS

What we can offer now

Speak:Unique is still a research project.

Regrettably we can’t yet provide bespoke voices to individuals.

We are improving the technology and user interfaces, and testing it out on a small number of people with MND.

We’re also still building up our bank of donor healthy voices. Our Scottish accents are nearly complete, but there’s still a few more we need. We’re collecting English, Irish and Welsh accents now too. If you live in, or can get to Edinburgh, please find out if we need your accent by visiting the Speak:Unique website.

Speak:Unique website