Livox can interpret user movements through intelligent algorithms and adapt content based on the user profile.
By: Naseem S. Miller *
Until recently little Anna spoke only gibberish.
She’s almost 4 years old and has autism. Her mom, Angelique Hall, had been taking her to Florida Hospital’s Pediatric Rehabilitation for speech therapy, where Kristen Bencomo worked with the frustrated little girl so she could be understood.
Then six months ago, Bencomo offered a new tool to Hall: an app called Livox, which had become available because the hospital’s innovation team started a partnership with the app’s creator.
“Within three months of using Livox, her vocabulary exploded,” said Bencomo. Sitting in a playroom with Anna and her mom, Bencomo blew bubbles every time Anna pressed the bubble image and then said “bubble” herself.
In the speech and language impairment world, Livox falls under the umbrella of augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC. The systems help people with disabilities and impaired communication express themselves despite conditions such as autism, stroke, cerebral palsy or even cancer. The devices can be sophisticated and expensive, such as the one Stephen Hawking uses. Or they can be much simpler apps with images, which produce sentences and phrases when pressed by the user.
Livox is more user-friendly and easier to customize than other apps available on the market, according to families and speech therapists who use it.
Carlos Pereira created the app five years ago to help his daughter Clara communicate with the world around her. She was born with cerebral palsy, unable to walk or speak.
He tried everything, including stem-cell therapy. But unsatisfied, he decided to create his own system of assistive technology.
He created Livox — “Li” for liberty, and “vox” for voice in Latin. And he chose a little green bird for the logo.
The app is well-known in Brazil, with more than 20,000 users, many of whom have disabilities. It’s available in 25 languages and the private company has sold more than $3 million worth of the Android-based software, which runs for about $250.
But Pereira has lofty goals.
To make the app more affordable, he created a nonprofit called Inclusion Without Borders.
In 2015, Livox won an UN World Summit Award for inclusion and empowerment. And in 2016 Inclusion Without Borders got a $550,000 grant from Google’s philanthropic arm.
That grant brought Pereira and his family to Orlando and eventually led to a partnership with Florida Hospital, where he’s developing Livox Bridge.
Florida Hospital’s Alliance and Innovation eXchange team connects businesses of all sizes to the hospital’s health-care professionals. In other words, it gives them a living lab to develop their product. And for developers like Pereira, that’s invaluable.
“Our office is in a walking distance from here,” said Pereira. “I wanted our engineers to be close to patients and see them use Livox. They really need to understand the needs of people with disabilities.”
With Livox Bridge, Pereira is hoping to close what’s known as the reciprocity gap — the time it takes for people with disabilities to communicate via available assistive technologies.
He’s using Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing, “two of the hottest technologies out there right now,” said Pereira, to make communication via Livox almost real time. By using simple and complex signals, such as daylight, sound or typing, the app brings up relevant context for the user and makes their communication quicker.
As he develops the new product, he’s testing it with 10 pediatric patients at Florida Hospital Orlando and Celebration to see how it compares with the original Livox. Participating families such as Hall get the app for free, but need to purchase Android-based tablets.
The second phase of his study, expected to last 18 months, will include 50 patients.
Pereira said he’s establishing an office in Orlando to commercialize his product in the U.S. Florida Hospital, hasn’t decided whether it wants to invest, said Ashley Simmons, director of innovation development at the health system.
“But this is one of my absolute favorite projects,” said Simmons. “It pulls at your heart when you see how it affects people.”
Pereira said that the Livox isn’t actively looking for investors.
“However, any investors that may bring ‘smart money’ [with connections] are interesting for us,” he said in an e-mail. “We really would love to have grants and philanthropic donations to enable Inclusion Without Borders to develop new technologies and also to enable IWB to continue to subsidize Livox and even donate tablets [with Livox] for those in need.”
* Published originally at Orlando Sentinel