Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is an uncommon and incurable medical condition whereby the nerves of a patient’s brain and spine gradually degenerate and lose their capabilities to function properly. As mentioned in The Lancet Neurology, in the year 2016, there are more than 330,000 individuals affected by MND globally and over 30,000 patients dying from it. In general, MND patients experience significant impairment in their physical, motor, and vocal activities.  

A smart tool which learns the ways a speaker speaks  

Last week, the British multinational engineering company, Rolls-Royce announced a new machine learning (ML) driven tool developed in collaboration with the MND Association and some of the leading technology companies including Microsoft, Dell Technologies, Intel, Accenture, and Computacenter. Known as Quips, this early-stage communication tool aims to give MND patients back their voices as they can now use “their own voice, words, colloquialisms and accent” to carry out a conversation without rely on typing or being confined to a limited set of pre-determined responses.  

Specifically, according to the press release, Quips uses voice-banking (i.e., recording a list of phrases using a person’s own voice) and ML to learn a person’s unique way of speaking and deploy them in actual communication. At the same time, Quips also listens out for the ongoing conversation and propose words or phrases that a user is likely to express, for them to quickly pick up and be read out in his/her own voice, to prevent a break in the exchange. It also includes slangs or vocabulary that can be adapted to various situations and people at work, home or leisure.  

Next Generation Think Tank  

Rolls-Royce IT Innovation strategist Stuart Moss, who lost his father to MND on Christmas Day five years ago, started the Next Generation Think Tank earlier this year, alongside with MND Association. He said those who had been robbed of their capability to interact with their loved ones because of MND, can make the festive seasons especially lonely and diffculy. As such, he hope Quips is the first step to render people’s voices back and the Think Tank can continue to deliver many more helpful innovations.  

MND Association’s Director of Care Improvement Nick Goldup added, “The technology available to help people communicate has changed little in the recent past – most people will be familiar with Professor Stephen Hawking’s computerized voice which he programmed using his eyes. This technology will allow people living with MND to communicate close to ‘real time’ than they can with existing technology”.

Rolls-Royce and its data innovation hub – R2 Data Labs plan to integrate Quips into some of the leading augmented or alternative communication packages that already present in the market.

Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.