Kevin Lewis Aims to Address Face Mask Accessibility with Deepgram-Powered Speech-to-Text Wearable

A wearable hacked together in "a couple of hours," this accessibility device displays speech for those who can no longer lipread.

Developer advocate Kevin Lewis has leveraged Deepgram's artificial intelligence smarts to build tool designed with accessibility in mind — recognizing speech and converting it to text on a linked display for when face coverings make lip-reading impossible.

"Masks making it hard to understand people either audibly or because you rely on lip reading? Just got this hacked together," Lewis explained while unveiling the system. "It displays my speech in real time with Deepgram!"

Powered by Deepgram's voice AI platform, for whom Lewis works as a developer advocate, the device stands alone from the mask itself. A microphone is clipped to the wearer to pick up speech, which is then converted to text via Deepgram and the result displayed on a screen located on the wearer's chest.

"[I'm] also gonna make it more wearable and less 'just about staying upright on my pocket,'" Lewis promises, "make [the] font bigger, try and only show my speech and not others around me, etc. But not bad for a couple of hours of work."

It's not the first speech-to-text hack for face masks we've seen: Last year maker Lorraine Underwood showcased two masks with integrated LED matrices, one powered by a Raspberry Pi single-board computer and the other by an ESP32 connected to a desktop machine. In both cases, spoken words were converted to text then scrolled across the integrated display.

At around the same time, Austin Nelson was showing off an LED face mask display - though one which relied on preprogrammed messages and animations rather than offering speech-to-text functionality. Chelsea Klukas built something similar a year earlier, building in the ability to issue social distancing warnings, while Tyler Glaiel's take on the concept displays a sound-reactive animated mouth capable of smiling.

Lewis hasn't published code for the project, but will offer updates on his Twitter feed as the device is improved.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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