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New communications aid device could improve quality of life for critically ill

Queen’s researchers are involved in new study that will support patients with tracheostomies in critical care environments to communicate through a new technological device.

Researchers at Queen’s University will work along with LIOPA, a spin out of the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen’s University Belfast, and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to develop the app known as SRAVI (Speech Recognition App for the Voice Impaired). Compared to the limited alternatives available, SRAVI will provide an easy-to-use, accurate and cost effective method for communication between these patients, their family members and healthcare staff.   SRAVI will integrated with LipRead, Liopa’s AI-based Visual Speech Recognition engine.

This initial project will focus on a select group of patients with tracheostomies (approximately 10,000 tracheostomies are placed per year in the UK) who currently struggle to vocalise but can move their lips normally. Whilst the initial prototype will support a limited vocabulary in English, the application can be further developed to support larger vocabularies across multiple languages.

Clinical Professor Danny McAuley, from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast and Consultant at the Belfast Trust, said: “The inability to communicate during an ICU stay is a major source of morbidity for patients, family and staff. A patient’s non-verbal attempts to communicate are often difficult to understand which can be frustrating for patients and carers. This novel approach may allow better communication between the patient, staff and family from an early stage, and might enable the patient to take a more proactive role in their care and recovery improve recovery.”

Liam McQuillan, Founder and CEO, Liopa, said: “This is a novel application of our proven AI-based Visual Speech Recognition (VSR) system LipRead, which analyses and translates lip movements into recognisable words. The technology allows the translation of lip movement to text using an android app on a mobile device which will need very little training and is inexpensive.

“SRAVI can be deployed on commodity smartphones and tablets, that can be used by multiple patients.  Alternative technologies, such as ‘eye-gaze’ systems, require bespoke hardware and are generally much more expensive”

Shondipon Laha, Consultant in Critical Care and Anaesthesia, Lancashire Teaching Hospital, commented “This project will address a government priority to implement new digital solutions in the NHS. SRAVI will deliver improved patient-carer communications for patients with tracheostomies, thus reducing rehabilitation times in expensive ICU settings.”

The project will run for nine months and will include an evaluation phase, carried out in hospital critical care environments in Lancashire and Belfast.