“Personalised synthetic voices are valuable not just to the individual, but also to their families as their loved one can maintain a key part of their identity. We are extremely grateful to the 1,600 people from all over the UK who donated their voices to the research project, which has allowed individuals to communicate with a voice that is identifiably their own.”
Alice Smith was awarded the RSE Enterprise Fellowship in autumn 2019, with an exciting business proposition, SpeakUnique, she benefited from an equity-free package of support worth up to £100,000 each to aid in the commercialisation of the project.
SpeakUnique developed technology for the creation of personalised, synthesised voices, creating a bespoke product that is either a close replica of a person’s own voice, or a custom-built new voice according to the customers desired characteristics. Outcomes from the research project showed that personalised voices help people retain dignity and a sense of control in the face of devastating and incurable diseases.
The idea of the company was born from Euan MacDonald, founder of the Euan MacDonald Center for Motor Neuron Disease Research at the University of Edinburgh. Euan lost his voice due to the effect of MND and he didn’t want his children to remember him by a voice that wasn’t his own, where communication aids only provided generic computerized voices.
In 2019, Speak Unique was awarded the Emerging Innovation Award for Edinburgh Innovations, Inspire Launch Grow awards. Since then, partnerships and funding have been secured to cover the cost of a SpeakUnique synthetic voice to any individual who could benefit, thanks to funding from the Scottish Government’s “Provision of Communication Equipment” legislation, Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) and MND Scotland.
In June 2020, the first products were launched and the company quickly established an international reputation. Its services are currently available to English- speaking customers worldwide, providing an expanding range of accents including Danish and Welsh. The company aims to move into supplying voices in other languages so that it can provide a truly global service to communication aid users.