Saskatoon man creates speech-to-text mask to combat muffled conversations

Brian Kendall saw a Kickstarter campaign for a mask that would display a smile as the person spoke. Then he thought, what about words?

The invention can aid people who are hard of hearing communicate while masked

Brian Kendall is the head of VoiceViewer, which uses talk-to-text to display speech on the front of a mask. (Submitted by Brian Kendall)

A Saskatoon man is pursuing a project he expects could help people, especially those who are hard of hearing, communicate while masked. 

Brian Kendall described it as a cloth mask "with [a small] LED screen built in … and we use speech-to-text and then send it Bluetooth" to the mask's screen. It's powered by a lithium battery. 

He's developed a prototype, but it's slower than the final product he plans to produce. He expects his final product will display the words instantly as you speak them on either a mask or hat. 

"I don't think the plexiglass or the masks are going away anytime soon, I think we're going to wear them for a while," he said. 

"It's not just about masks, it's about an easier way to communicate for people hard of hearing, hearing loss and deaf people." 

Kendall said his previous entrepreneurial endeavours were affected by COVID-19 restrictions, so he pivoted to solving a pandemic problem.

"I take care of my dad at a care home and I noticed a lot of the older people were having a hard time hearing through plexiglass masks," Kendall said. 

Kendall said his father, who has dementia, would have difficulty hearing during their conversations, but could more easily read words.

He considered a microphone that would amplify voices, but found that would be too noisy. Then, while Kendall was scouting Kickstarter, he saw a mask that would display a smile as the person spoke. 

"What if I could make my voice seen on this screen?" he said. 

He got to work on his idea in March. He's been finding suppliers and testing computer chips to make it an affordable piece of attire, he said. 

"I don't have a big factory or anything like that, it's more self-done in just my home office [doing] what everybody had to do. We all had to go home and find a way to bring our products to life," Kendall said. 

He had nearly finished a version of his product, but found another computer chip that would allow him to make similar products like wearable badges and desk signs.

If his final version takes off, he believes people could get their hands on them as soon as February.

With files from Chelsea Cross and Saskatoon Morning


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