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Google’s Project Relate App Promises To Help Improve Communication For People With Speech Impairments

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at November 17, 2021

In a blog post published last week, Google AI product manager Julie Cattiau announced one of the company’s latest efforts to come out of its “Inventors at Google” initiative. Project Relate is a new app for Android that Google says should help those with speech impairments better communicate with others, as well as the Google Assistant. The company has posted a video to YouTube that shows how the app works.

“Project Relate is a continuation of years of research from both Google’s Speech and Research teams, made possible by over a million speech samples recorded by participants of our research effort,” Cattiau wrote in the post.

As the app is still being developed, Google is actively soliciting volunteers to help test the software—specifically English-speaking people from the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Testers are asked to read a series of phrases to help build a language model with which it can learn a person’s unique speech patterns.

Project Relate has three core features: Listen, Repeat, and Assistant. Listen will transcribe speech in real time, allowing users to copy and paste it into other apps as well as let people read what is being said. Repeat will, as the name implies, repeat what is said into a clear voice such that the other person (say, in conversation) can understand what’s being communicated. Assistant lets users speak directly to the Google Assistant for smart assistant jobs like controlling one’s smart home devices.

Google consulted with many people who have speech delays in conceiving the Relate project; they included employee Audrie Lee, a brand manager whose speech is affected by muscular dystrophy. As she works on Google’s marketing team for new products, she helped name Project Relate. “I’m used to the look on people’s faces when they can’t understand what I’ve said,” Lee said in the post. “Project Relate can make the difference between a look of confusion and a friendly laugh of recognition.”

The advent of Project Relate is the latest sign of progress in the work to make virtual assistants more accessible to people with atypical speech. Katie Deighton of the Wall Street Journal reported early this year on tech titans, including Google, dipping into their respective war chests to funnel additional resources into making their ambient computers more graceful when it comes to understanding non-standard speech patterns. For Apple’s part, sources have indicated to me in the past couple years the company added speech pathologists to its Siri team in an effort to better understand the physiological effects of speaking and how they relate to stutterers and the like.

Anyone with a speech delay who’s interested in becoming a Project Relate tester can fill out this form. Google will get back to people “in the coming months.”

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