Speaking at TEDMED 2014, Rupal Patel, founder of VocalID, described her work developing a technology that creates personalized, enhanced voices for the speech impaired. We got in touch with her to learn more about what drives her work.
What advice would you give to other aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs?
Follow your passion and choose impact above all. Everything else will follow.
What was your main source of inspiration?
Several years ago, I was at an assistive communications conference in Denmark. I had just finished giving a talk on how we each have our own unique vocal identities. As I walked into the exhibit hall, I saw a young girl and a grown man having a conversation using their devices. Different devices with the same voice. Then I noticed the same voice coming from all around me. We would never dream of fitting a little girl with the prosthetic limb of a grown man, so why give them the same prosthetic voice? That was the pivotal observation that, a few years later, resulted in a research grant aimed at creating the underlying technology behind VocaliD.
Every day, we receive stories and emails from individuals wanting their own unique vocal identities. It is within these stories and shared experiences that we draw inspiration. Every day they push us to innovate, creating personalized voices that are better than the last. Simply put, they inspire us.
Why does your talk matter now? What do you hope people learn from your talk?
I want voice donors to know that they don’t have to lose to gain. I want to educate the public about text-to-speech (TTS), augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), and raise awareness of various voice disorders and their causes. I want to break stereotypes and create unique vocal identities, where end users feel empowered by their voice and not afraid to use it.
What is the legacy you want your work and/or your talk to leave?
I aspire to create a technology that enables people to be heard through their own voice. When technology and humans are seamlessly integrated, there is the opportunity for a multiplier effect in terms of impact. Every voice deserves to be heard, even those who use devices to communicate. These unique vocal personas are powered not just by technology, but by everyday speech donors of all ages and backgrounds who empathize with recipients who need a voice. That’s a powerful mix of community, technology and empowerment.
Do you have a call to action for your viewers?
Sign up to be a Voice Donor and begin recording your speech at VocalID’s Voicebank! You can also check out, donate and spread the word about our Indiegogo campaign. Through this crowdfunding campaign, you can help us in our mission to ensure that everyone has a unique voice.