Abhinav Shekhar Vashistha’s awareness about the issues that the speech and hearing-impaired faced started at an early age, when a young hearing-impaired neighbour couldn’t afford a hearing aid and got one only after the age of eight or nine. The boy took another six years to start speaking. The experience stuck with him and since then he knew he had to do something that made their lives easier
In 2016, after a stint as a research assistant in IIT Mumbai, he started working on creating a device which would convert mechanical movement into speech for the hearing and speech-impaired. The device went on to become the star attraction at the India Israel Innovation Bridge in Ahmedabad held in January 2018, impressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi.
While a product like the one Vashistha has developed has a lot of commercial viability, similar devices previously launched have failed and couldn’t live up to the hype. The reason? “These devices were not very advanced and were very expensive. The cost was as high as Rs.400,000-500,000 with limited usage,” says Vashistha.
Sonant Technologies’ Vois device is actually a pair of gloves that comes with a tiny smartwatch-like screen. The gloves have sensors attached to it and the user just needs to touch those points to convert preset sentences into speech. The device works in three modes. First, frequently used sentences can be customised and preset for quicker response. Second, the same could be done with words. The user can save words and compose sentences instantly during conversation. Third, whatever the user wants to say can be typed simultaneously using the screen attached.
Further, the tiny screen also converts the other person’s speech into text for the hearing impaired. Additionally, the device converts surrounding sounds such as a doorbell, car horn, a baby crying into vibrations for the ease of the hearing impaired. The device, which supports 80 Indian languages, is currently in the prototyping stage, It will soon be available in the market at a price range of Rs.15,000-20,000. The start-up already has about 15 orders in hand and has enquiries for about 80 more. It is currently being incubated by the International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology (iCreate) in Ahmedabad. The centre incubates and works with social enterprises that are creating socio-economic impact in India. The firm is currently collaborating with NGOs, CSR initiatives and Government schemes to deliver its device to the weaker sections of the society at a lower rate or free of cost.