Google is starting to roll out two new features for Android phones today that are meant to help the some 900 million people around the world who the World Health Organization says will be suffering from hearing loss by the year 2055. The features are actually two apps for Android called Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier, both of which do exactly what the names imply.
The Live Transcribe app, for example, takes real-world speech and turns it into real-time captions using the phone’s microphone, while Sound Amplifier helps filter, augment and amplify sounds in the environment around the user. It increases quiet sounds while not over-boosting loud sounds, and it can also be customized, with sliders and toggles that can be used for noise reduction to minimize distractions in the background.
Sound Amplifier will be in the Play Store today for Android users, while Google says Live Transcribe will start rolling out in a limited beta today via the Play Store. It will also come pre-installed on Pixel 3 devices, and you can sign up here to be notified when it’s more widely available. Sound Amplifier will likewise come pre-installed on Pixel 3’s.
In a company blog post today, Google shows how the apps can be used by spotlighting the work of Dimitri Kanevsky, a research scientist at the company who’s worked on speech recognition and communications technology for 30 years. “Through his work, Dimitri — who has been deaf since early childhood — has helped shape the accessibility technologies he relies on. One of them is CART: A service where a captioner virtually joins a meeting to listen and create a transcription of spoken dialogue, which then displays on a computer screen. Dimitri’s teammate, Chet Gnegy, saw the challenges Dimitri faced using CART: He always carried multiple devices, it was costly and each meeting required a lot of preparation. This meant Dimitri could only use CART for formal business meetings or events, and not everyday conversations.”
That, the Google post continues, inspired Chet to work with the company’s Accessibility team to build a tool that could reduce Dimitri’s effort spent preparing for conversations. “We thought: What if we used cloud-based automatic speech recognition to display spoken words on a screen? A prototype was built and Googlers across a bunch of our offices — from Mountain View to Taipei — got involved. The result is Live Transcribe, an app that takes real-world speech and turns it into real-time captions using just the phone’s microphone.”
The app gives people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Google says, greater independence in their everyday interactions. People like Dimitri, who’s now closer to his loved ones and able to easily communicate with his young granddaughters without the help of family members.