Napa Valley Resident Creates Innovative App to Help Children with Autism Communicate
1 in 59 children has been diagnosed with autism in the United States, according to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). For many on the autistic spectrum, verbal communication is a serious challenge.
Matthew Gugemos, a resident of Napa, California, has developed InnerVoice, an award-winning app that teaches children with autism social communication skills through animated 3D avatars of themselves, characters, or favorite toys. According to a report this month by Napa Valley Register, the app was created by Guggemos and his business partner, Lois Brady.
Guggemos said the app, which launched in 2013, is simply “using phones to activate natural learning processes.” As noted by the app’s website, “the possibilities are endless.”
The app allows users to choose a picture of a face to create an animated 3D avatar on their iPad or other Apple device. The avatars then capture the user’s attention while teaching speech, language, and social communication skills. The avatars express emotion through facial expressions and tone of voice when users touch the emojis and type a message.
Guggemos says that, while there are other apps that can generate speech, InnerVoice is unique in combining artificial intelligence technology with facial expressions, tone of voice, emotions, written words, and videos. The app also allows users to take a photo of an item, which will then be labeled with text and described with speech by InnerVoice’s artificial intelligence system. This allows users to see the connections between environment, speech, language, and text. A user can also share words with others by creating videos of the avatar speaking his or her message.
Guggemos said he created the app as part of his work for his company iTherapy, which offers placement services for speech pathologists. InnerVoice was created iTherapy’s research and development arm. According to Napa Valley Register, Guggemos and Brady have already been awarded over $300,000 in grants from organizations like Microsoft and the National Science Foundation.
The final version of InnerVoice launched on the iTunes store in May 2018 and has been downloaded roughly 10,000 times. The app costs $49.95, which Guggemos says is less expensive than other communication apps.
“We’re just trying to make something that people will respond to,” he was quoted as saying by Napa Valley Register.