SpeakUnique creates personalised synthetic voices for use in communication aids by individuals unable to speak due to medical conditions like motor neurone disease, cerebral palsy and strokes. Typically, communication aids come preinstalled with a generic synthetic voice that does not reflect the individuals’ identity and often doesn’t match their age or regional accent. SpeakUnique allows people to use a short recording of their own voice to generate a synthetic voice that sounds like them, that can then be incorporated into their device.
SpeakUnique began as a collaborative research project between the Centre for Speech Technology Research and the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research at the University of Edinburgh.
Euan MacDonald lost his own voice due to the effects of MND. He came up with the idea for SpeakUnique because he didn’t want his children to remember him by a voice that wasn’t his own.
The initial feedback the company received from research participants indicated that this novel technology was valuable and that it could improve the quality of life not just to the individual, but also to their families as their loved one can maintain a key part of their identity.
In 2019, a spin-out company was formed to allow the technology to be offered as a service.
“Transitioning from a research project has been an interesting process and a steep learning curve. “- say the CEO of SpeakUnique Alice Smith, “We’ve had to adapt technology developed in research to a sellable product. It has also exposed me to areas that you don’t see in University research, such as building a brand image and creating marketing campaigns.”
Support from Edinburgh Innovations
SpeakUnique CEO Alice Smith has been supported by Edinburgh Innovations throughout the commercialisation process, including forming the spinout company.
EI helped the SpeakUnique team secure ICURe and Innovate UK funding, and supported Smith’s application to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for an Enterprise Fellowship in 2019, which was then hosted by EI.
Smith and the SpeakUnique team won the Emerging Innovation Award for Staff at EI’s 2019 Inspire Launch Grow awards.
EI also helped to secure a licence to the background IP owned by the University.
If you are working or studying at the University of Edinburgh and are interested in industry engagement, speak with Edinburgh Innovations – there is a huge amount of support in terms of engagement events, training and grants for people interested in commercialising research.
Alice Smith, Chief Executive Officer, SpeakUnique