If you managed to catch the Oscars the other night, you might remember seeing a Google ad starring ALS patient Antoinette Fernandes.
The commercial showcases Look to Speak, an Android app designed to assist the millions of people around the world dealing with speech and motor impairments.
But, what actually is Look to Speak and how does it work?
What is Google’s Look to Speak app?
Look to Speak is an Android app that allows users to communicate using just their eyes and the front-facing camera on their smartphone.
The app offers its user two lists of common phrases, ranging from greetings like “Hello” and “What’s your name?” to “Yes” and “No”, “Please” and “Thank you” and even more specific requests like “Water please” and “Music please”.
Users look left or right to select a list, which in turn splits that list into left and right columns for them to choose from with their gaze. Within about four glances, users are able to narrow down the list to select the phrase they want Google to speak aloud – all completely hands and speech-free.
Users can customise the list of words and phrases to suit their needs and their unique voice and the eye gaze sensitivity can also be adjusted. Google also claims that no data leaves the phone, which we presume means the processing is done on-device.
Look to Speak also benefits from the convenience that comes with being a smartphone app. It works outdoors, in transit, in the shower and in urgent situations – places Google says some communication devices sometimes struggle to function.
Look to Speak isn’t actually all that new.
Google first began working on the app in early 2020 and it has been available in the Play Store since December of that year.
The project is a part of Google’s Start With One collection on the Experiments With Google platform, in which developers work with a single person with the aim being to create something impactful for an entire community.
For this project, Google worked Sarah Ezekiel, an artist who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2000, and speech and language therapist Richard Cave.
You can see a demonstration of the app in action below:
If you’re interested in trying out Look to Speak yourself, you can download it from the Google Play Store right now. All you need it an Android or Android One phone running Android 9 or above.
Sadly, the app isn’t available in Apple’s App Store at this point.