Not surprisingly, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are at the forefront of funding this type of AI research and development. The companies have been partnering with app developers and start-up tech companies.

In some instances, they are also opening up competitions to small businesses, looking for innovative ways to grow and fund groundbreaking AI development.

The World Bank reports that there are over one billion people with disabilities around the globe so technology to improve their lives is not only helping people, it is also good business.

Here are some life-changing AI projects currently on the rise:

1. Project Euphonia

"You can turn on your lights, your music or communicate with someone. But this only works if the technology can actually recognise your voice and transcribe it," says Julie Cattiau, product manager at Google AI.
Project Euphonia has been created with the aim of enabling Google Assistant's voice recognition to better understand people with speech impairments.

"We also want to help those ... whose speech has been affected by a stroke or ALS," says Google CEO Sundar Pichai. "Researchers from Google AR are exploring the idea of personalised communication models that can better understand the different types of speech, as well as how AI can help even those who cannot speak to communicate."

Euphonia is in the early development phase and the goal of making AI recognise a different variety of speech is a huge task — but so necessary.

As Mariam Haider from Parentology points out, those with neurological conditions such as "Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson's, or developmental disorders such as Autism or Celebral Palsy, cannot rely on products like Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa." 

Project Euphonia's ongoing mission is to research voice data from people with impaired speech, building up a library of vocal samples as well as creating technology that picks up non-verbal sounds.

2. Amazon Echo Show

"It was the first time since he was a toddler playing with a rattler that he was able to interact with something all by himself," says James Bowen, father of a child with cerebral palsy. "This Echo device goes way beyond ordering groceries or looking up a recipe for us." 
Someone with cerebral palsy and who is non-verbal, like 12-year-old Kaden Bowen, can now use a speaking device to communicate with Amazon Echo. The Amazon Echo Show has been updated to include a touch screen, thus giving visual information as well as audio responses.

This works for the hearing impaired or deaf who can see the information on the screen with captions "echoing" the spoken words with text on the screen. In Kaden's case, he has a speaking device with buttons to press which verbalise pre-chosen words or sentences that communicate with the Echo.

3. Inner Voice

"We're not just developing tech for tech's sake, [but] working on technology that a particular disability community wants and is interested in driving with us," says Mary Bellard, senior accessibility architect at Microsoft.
Microsoft's far-reaching AI for Accessibility project was launched in May 2018 when the company pledged USD $25-million of funding over the next five years, with the money to go to "universities, philanthropic organisations, and others developing AI tools that serve those with disabilities." 

The first to benefit from AI for Accessibility was a business called iTherapy from California. With the grant, they leveraged InnerVoice — an app with chatbots, 3D avatars with written text, pictures and video.

These elements fuse together with the aim of helping students recognise how speech and language connect. At the moment, InnerVoice is being piloted with nonverbal children in an area with 18,000 students, and there's an improvement in language skills for those who used it consistently.

The app may soon be a life-changing tool all over the world, not only for the 6 million to 8 million people in the US who have some form of language impairment.

4. Seeing AI

Another innovation from Microsoft is Seeing AI which allows blind or poorly sighted people to have an idea of the world around them.

The app does the following:
  • reads printed text from books
  • speaks restaurant menus aloud
  • verbalises street signs, handwriting, banknotes and products (from the barcode)
By using facial-recognition technology, the app can "describe the physical appearance of people and predict their mood” — all via a smartphone.

Microsoft reports that from 2017 when Seeing AI was launched, the app has helped people with over 10 million tasks.

5. Helpicto

"We wanted to deliver to the market an innovative technology that could translate natural language into a universal form that someone who is nonverbal could use and understand," says Anthony Allebée, chief technology officer at Equade.
Leveraging of Microsoft Cognitive Services REST APIs and Microsoft Azure tools, software solutions company Equadex has fused machine learning and AI into its Helpicto app.

This is an app primarily for children with autism, assisting them to communicate better. The concept revolves around pictograms and associated keywords. The app is downloadable on tablet, PC and most smartphones.

Helpicto remembers the routine of activities, assisting the child to be more self-sufficient — giving advice on regular things like dressing and bedtimes.

At present, Microsoft reports that Helpicto is targeted for the use of parents and caregivers with children who have Autism, but the long-term goal is to assist with communications between people with other issues which make speaking difficult — like Alzheimer's disease, for example.

6. The Wheelie 7 from HooBox Robotics"

"We have mixed a creative idea with the right hardware and the right AI platform, so that when we put it together, we can make this a great tool for giving autonomy and mobility back to the users," says Paulo Gurgel Pinheiro, Hoobox CEO and co-founder.
Hoobox Robotics is a start-up in Brazil, funded by Intel's AI for Good programme to bring an 'adapter kit' for an electric wheelchair to market.

This kit enables the chair to be controlled by the user's facial expression. In other words, the new Wheelie 7 allows the user to control the chair with a "smile — or wink, or even eyebrow raise". 

It is called 'Wheelie 7' as it takes approximately seven minutes to put on and use, which is a major plus for people with 'motion limitations', and it is reported that "it doesn’t include anything physically intrusive like specialised body sensors".

The plan is to have an updateable kit. Anna Bethke, the head of Intel AI for Good, adds, "One of the things that we really want to do in this project and other projects is to help empower companies like Hoobox, which uses or modify the existing hardware and software capabilities to improve the well-being of people and the planet." 

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