A New Voice: How Vocal ID Can Change the World for Non-Verbal People | NECN
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A New Voice: How Vocal ID Can Change the World for Non-Verbal People

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    NEWSLETTERS

    We all have unique voices - but non-verbal people like Max Plansky have had to settle for voices that are not their own. Using new technology, Vocal ID is changing that. (Published Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015)

    We all have unique voices - with their pitches and their tones, they belong to us.

    But for Max Plansky, a Massachusetts teen who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant, the voice he uses is not his own.

    "I have 'Perfect Pete' on my device because it was the only American male voice on my device," Max said. "I chose it, but there were not many choices."

    It's the voice used by many who are non-verbal - and for Max, it's not him.

    "I think my voice sounds like my dad's voice," he said.

    But Vocal ID, a new technology, is changing that. Founder Rupal Patel has created a way to make a voice just for Max.

    "In the case of someone like Max, he never spoke," said Patel. "So it's sort of what he would have sounded like had he been able to control his tongue and lips and so on."

    But Max can make a vowel sound - in this case, "ah."

    "There are three 'ahs' that he was able to produce in a row for us, which you can hear," said Geoff Meltzner, the director of research and technology for Vocal ID.

    "We're taking that sample and mixing it with a matched donor that we find from our database," said Patel. "The matched donor has to be matched in age, in gender, in acoustic quality, and then we bring those two together."

    Patel says Max will have his new voice before Christmas of this year - it's a gift both he and father, never thought they'd have.

    "It's very emotional. Thank God he can say 'daddy' and some other words," said Michael Plansky. "But for him then to be able to carry on other conversations, and it be in his voice, we just anticipate that we're going to be able to get away from yes-no questions and actually have conversations."

    "I do think I will like the way my new voice sounds more," said Max.

    Students in Max's hometown are helping out - Danvers High School held a voice drive to contribute to Vocal ID's database.

    Students donated about five hours of their weekend to record sentences which will be broken down into sounds to create someone's new voice.

    "I love helping people out," said senior Madison Mucci. "Just the thought of changing someone's life is amazing."

    Changing someone's life one sentence at a time is a goal that Patel says will be achieved. Her company is growing, and so is the donor database.

    This year, Max will be one of the first with a new voice - a trailblazer for what she hopes will, one day, be the norm.

    "We wouldn't give a little girl the prosthetic limb of a grown man, so why would we give her the same prosthetic voice? That's exactly what we're doing," said Patel. "There are little girls around the world that are using voices like the Stephen Hawking voice."

    So what does she hope for Max?

    "I hope he engages more fully in conversations," she said. "I hope he seeks out more communication partners. I hope he seeks out more opportunities to express who he is.

    And that's exactly what Max is hoping for, too.

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