Project Relate ScreenshotSource: Google

What you need to know

  • Google is asking for people with speech impairments to volunteer for the Project Relate.
  • It is training its speech recognition algorithms to recognize atypical speech patterns.
  • The Project Relate app will listen to your words and repeat them more clearly for others to understand.
  • Project Relate will help people use Google Assistant more easily as well.

For people with physical disabilities, a voice assistant can be much more accessible for daily life than tapping away at a small smartphone screen. But for those with conditions that make speech difficult — such as ALS, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson's disease, or post-stroke brain damage — Google Speech recognition isn't properly equipped to understand their verbal tics.

Google's Project Relate initiative could change that. It is "a new Android app that aims to help people with speech impairments communicate more easily with others and interact with the Google Assistant."

Currently in beta in English-speaking countries, Project Relate has three functions. The first is to Listen to speech and transcribe it to text, so you can copy-paste it to messaging apps or show the transcription to people. The second is to Repeat your words vocally in a clearer tone so that others can better understand you out in public. And the third is to convey your words to Google Assistant so it can better understand your commands.

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Communication is a "fundamental human need" and a "basic human right," says Aubrie Lee, a Google brand manager who named the project. She hopes that technology can bridge the gap between her and others that emerges when they can't immediately understand her due to her disability.

If you want to try the app yourself or know someone who can benefit from it, Google is seeking volunteers with speech impairments who live in the U.S., UK, Australia, or New Zealand and own an Android phone running Android 8 or later.

Volunteers will be asked to record 500 phrases to help train Google's algorithm using a beta app, after which they'll be able to try using the app's functions for themselves.

We've already seen with Google Tensor how a Pixel phone can translate speech-to-text near-immediately for texting, or enable a cross-language conversation with excellent accuracy. Ideally, Project Translate will use the same AI-boosting tools to make communication faster for people with disabilities on Pixels.

Of course, the final Project Relate app should come to all Android phones (and hopefully iPhones as well), not just Pixels with Tensor hardware; but in theory, newer Pixels will remain the fastest for comprehending and transcribing speech.

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