Project Vive, a humanitarian startup intending to help people with non-verbal cerebral palsy (CP), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and other conditions that block speech, has started a crowdsourcing campaign that, if it raises an initial $10,000, will give 10 people a potentially a life-changing gift — the ability to speak.
Reaching the campaign goal will enable the company to provide one of its portable “Voz Box” speech-generation devices to 10 adults in Pennsylvania now unable to speak with others.
Tax-deductible contributions can be made at ProjectVive, which links to the Indiegogo campaign page, says Project Vive’s founder Mary Elizabeth McCulloch, a biomedical engineering student at Pennsylvania State University and Schreyer Honors College. While she was in high school, McCulloch spent time as an exchange student in Ecuador, where she worked with children and adults with nonverbal CP.
Persons with non-verbal CP and other speech-inhibiting disabilities often don’t have the necessary motor skills to speak or even operate simplified keyboards. Currently available solutions employ eye-tracking technology, which is very expensive, ranging in price from $10,000 to $17,000. This technology is also high maintenance and the hardware physically cumbersome, making travel inconvenient and awkward. Other current assistive technologies use touchscreens or large icon keyboards, which can be difficult for users with limited muscular control.
Project Vive is utilizing technology to develop, manufacture, and distribute a relatively low-cost speech generation device that allows the user to communicate by sensing simple joint movements that require minimal motor skills, such as those from a knee, wrist, or finger, to construct full sentences. Because Voz Box does not use eye tracking or require the user to look at a screen, communication can be more natural and personal, with the user and listener making eye-contact, and communicating through facial expressions.
“There were fifteen kids with cerebral palsy at the orphanage in Ecuador where I worked. Every day it became more evident that they were coherent, yet nothing was available to them that would allow unlabored communication,” McCulloch says in a Vive Project brochure.
Project Vive is now a team of 10 engineers and programmers with a mission to give a voice to the voiceless, by making their technology accessible to those who can’t afford or have failed with previous speech assistive technologies. Tailored to the individual user’s abilities, the Voz Box has a short learning curve.
The company is asking for help to continue producing Voz Box with its “A Journey to Ten Voices” campaign, a reference to its planned delivery of a custom Voz Box system to 10 recipients.
The device has been in development for over a year and is currently offered at an initial price of $1,000, which covers the hardware and software, maintenance, and training for users and caregivers.
Should the $10,000 crowdfunding goal be exceeded, the company will customize more devices and provide them to individuals on its waiting list. The company projects being able to offer Voz Box at an eventual price of $500 per unit in developed countries, and perhaps as little as $200 in developing countries, thanks to lower-cost local production.
“Devices on the market today are very expensive and many times very difficult to get,” said Scott Maust, deputy director of Alleghenies Unlimited Care Providers (AUCP), in a press release. AUCP is a Johnstown, Pennsylvania, non-profit that offers in-home, non-medical personal care services to individuals of varying abilities, namely the elderly and those recovering from an injury or illness, with a focus on helping them live independently.
McCulloch notes in the release that Project Vive recently hosted a poetry reading for Arlyn Edelstein, 70, who has CP, and uses one of the original Voz Box units to share her poetry aloud, word for word, with her audiences. “Project Vive has provided me, through the use of the Voz Box, a way of being understood by the general public,” Edelstein said, through her Voz Box. “I have written dozens of poems, but now I can say them before an audience.”
“This is a milestone for our project as we’ve reached the point where we can provide a turn-key, field tested unit for a fraction of the cost of the other products currently available. Our aim is to give voices to the tens of thousands of people who need to be heard, but before now, haven’t had an affordable, accessible device for easier communication,” McCulloch said. “It is truly amazing to see and hear the impact giving a voice has, not only for the recipient, but also for their loved ones and friends.”
For more information, visit ProjectVive.com