The UCD spin-out founded by Dr Aviva Cohen is building technology to enable non-verbal people to communicate more seamlessly.
Today, Dr Aviva Cohen is known for being a founder and chief executive in Ireland’s digital health space developing assistive technologies. But in a past life, the award-winning entrepreneur was a philosophy lecturer who dabbled in communications consultancy.
Things changed when her husband survived a stroke in 2006 that affected his speech, mobility and cognition. This inspired her to find ways to deploy technology to support those living with severe disabilities.
Five years later, Cohen founded Neuro Hero, through which she created 19 speech and language therapy apps in six languages to support people. On her team was chief technologist Ian Kennedy, who today serves as the chief operating officer of SeamlessCare, a start-up Cohen and Kennedy co-founded with Dr Çağrı Çubukçu.
Çubukçu was a mechanical and materials engineering PhD candidate at University College Dublin (UCD) when Cohen, a former Marie Curie postdoctoral research fellow, was deputy director of a PhD programme at the department.
“His thesis revealed an exceptional technical and creative talent. On the completion of his PhD, I invited Çağrı to join the SeamlessCare founding team,” Cohen tells SiliconRepublic.com.
“His decade-long experience in developing enterprise-grade software in various industries, management experience, academic accolades and adaptability to any technology or industry made him a perfect fit as our CTO.”
Today, the three are at the helm of SeamlessCare, which is building technology that is focused on enhancing communication and support for people with a wide range of disabilities such as autism, acquired brain injury and dementia.
AI at the core
Last year, the UCD spin-out raised €700,000 to speed up the roll-out of its assistive tech, including Empathic, which was in a closed beta at this stage. It was among 11 research-based high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland in 2021.
And last year, SeamlessCare launched Empathic, a unique technology to support interactions with people who have no other means of communication.
“Empathic enables everyone to understand a non-verbal person even if they have never met before. Anyone providing support can make a short voice recording and Empathic will display the emotion being expressed,” Cohen explains.
“It is powered by AI at its core, with accompanying mobile and web applications built by the SeamlessCare team.
“In addition, we are preparing to launch SeamlessCare AI Services, to enable SMEs, start-ups and researchers to build bespoke AI from start to finish. This will be followed by a range of products designed to address market gaps that we have identified.”
According to Cohen, Empathic is the first app to interpret emotional sounds from non-verbal vocalisations alone.
There are a variety of products that help to detect emotions in fluent speech, a process called sentiment analysis, which is typically based on analysis of voice recordings from people who are speaking fluently in a language.
“However, this focuses on interpreting words. It does not recognise non-verbal vocalisations. Empathic is different,. Our AI is only trained on the voice recordings of non-verbal people in real-world settings,” Cohen continues.
“We have been working with individuals who use fewer than 20 reliable, functional words, along with their families, service providers, healthcare and homecare professionals since 2019.”
Now, Cohen says the SeamlessCare team is busier than ever before. The start-up is preparing to launch Empathic for service providers, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes and rehabilitation centres.
“We are also preparing to launch our AI services in early 2024, as well as working on two new, cutting-edge products that address significant gaps in the delivery of AI and in healthcare. In addition, we are looking forward to expanding our team in the new year so it is an exciting time for us.”
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