Google invites Kiwis to help test Project Relate app for those with speech impairments

Speech aide app Project Relate in action
The app will learn each user's unique speech pattern using 500 test phrases. Photo credit: Supplied / Google

Kiwis with speech difficulties are being invited to test a new Google Android app aimed at helping those with impairments communicate more easily with others.

Project Relate is aimed at the millions of people around the world who have difficulty being understood as a result of conditions like strokes, ALS, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease.

The company is looking for English-speaking testers in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US to try out the app and provide feedback to improve it.

Project Relate builds on years of research and over a million speech samples recorded by participants for the company's Speech and Research teams, it said.

"I'm used to the look on people’s faces when they can't understand what I've said,” Aubrie Lee, a brand manager at Google, whose speech is affected by muscular dystrophy, said.

"Project Relate can make the difference between a look of confusion and a friendly laugh of recognition."

Testers will need to record 500 phrases using an Android phone, which will take between 30 and 90 minutes, the company said.

The Relate app then uses those known phrases to better understand the person's unique speech pattern. That, in return, gives access to the three main features of the app: 'listen', 'repeat' and 'assist'.

With 'listen', the app transcribes speech to text in real time so it can be pasted into other apps or shown to people to let them read it.

'Repeat' restates what has just been said using a synthesised voice, which the company hopes will be helpful in face-to-face conversations.

Finally, 'assistant' will allow users to talk directly to Google Assistant so verbal requests such as playing a song or turning on the lights can be done.

To express interest in becoming a tester an interest form has to be filled out, with a decision made on those who will be accepted in the next few months.

"With your help, we hope to build a future in which people with disabilities can more easily communicate and be understood," Julie Cattiau, product manager, Google AI said.