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November 26, 2002

New software brings lip-reading to mobiles

From: ZDNet, UK - 26 Nov 2002


Israel's largest mobile phone operator Cellcom and Israeli start-up SpeechView have launched a worldwide patented software that will allow the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate verbally through mobile phones.

The product LipCcell is a software installed in the user's computer and connected with a cable to a cellphone. When the deaf user gets a call, the software translates the voice on the other side of the line into a three-dimensional animated face on the computer, whose lips move in real time synch with the voice allowing the receiver to lip read.

The software can be used initially only with a computer or laptop, said SpeechView chief executive Tzvika Nayman, though future developments will allow the software to be installed on personal digital assistants.

Cellcom will be the sole distributer of the kits in Israel with revenues derived from the calls, Cellcom deputy chief executive Oren Most told Reuters.

The software kit, including a CD and cable, costs £8o.

Some basic training, included in the instruction manual of the CD, is needed to better interpret the lip nuances of the animated figure, Nayman said, adding there was also colour on the animated figure's nose or cheeks to help differentiate between sounds that are confusingly similar.

"The additional signs added to the animated figure raise the level of identification from 35 to 85 percent," he said.

Nayman said he knows of no such technology in the world, and added that SpeechView was in touch with mobile phone operators in Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands to further distribute the product.

"There is no language limitation," Nayman said, adding that all phonemic languages can be translated by the software.

The technology was created by Nachshon Margaliot, an Israeli information systems specialist, who stumbled upon the need for the product while working with a hard of hearing collegue.

"I couldn't understand how the communication world had forgotten the hard of hearing and why there was no comprehensive solution," Margaliot said.

A spokesman for SpeechView said 10 percent of the world population had different levels of hearing difficulties, of which half were suited to use the software.

Entrepreneur Paul Baan, co-founder and past president of the Netherlands-based Baan Co, is the main shareholder of SpeechView through the Noaber Beheer Foundation, having invested $2m in the two-year-old company.

Baan said at the launch that he expected SpeechView to become a $50m business in a few years time.

Reuven Baram, chairman of the Shema organisation in Haifa, a centre for the hard of hearing said the product would contribute significantly to the deaf community but added that one deaf student had some difficulty lip-reading the figure.

Cellcom is a subsidiary of BellSouth, Brazil's Safra Group and Israel's Discount Investment Corp.

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