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App that lends voice to text

September 06, 2011 10:57 IST

In early 2010, Nirmala Godhwani, practitioner of classical Indian music for over 40 years, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease in North America, after the famous New York Yankees baseball player who was diagnosed with the disease in 1939, ALS is a progressive, fatal, neurodegenerative disease.

ALS patients typically die due of pneumonia in a few years.

Godhwani's sons, Anil and Gautam, could only watch helplessly as she lost her speech and gradually, her motor skills to ALS. They approached their cousin, Ajay Godhwani, for help.

"It completely took her voice, and with it, the ability to interact and connect with the ones she loved. When my cousins (Anil and Gautam) saw the impact the loss of communication was having on their mother, they asked me to help them in researching available products," said Ajay Godhwani who, along with Anil and Gautam, founded Intuary to develop a solution to address his aunt's handicap.

After various efforts, the trio finally came up with a solution - the 'Verbally' app, which brings speech to those deprived of it and enables real conversation with its simple, intuitive design. Verbally, says Ajay Godhwani (also Intuary chief executive), is "an invaluable communication aid for people with apraxia, ALS, stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's or muscular dystrophy."

Verbally is an assisted speech solution for the iPad. Its design allows users to communicate quickly and effectively in any setting.

Its 'core words grid' offers over 50 essential words, which can save one over 50 per cent of the taps required to input sentences, along with a dozen common phrases "to enable faster and easier conversation".

The app also features 'text prediction', which learns words and names one uses and makes entering one's thoughts significantly faster than typing.

There are three keyboard layouts, a choice of male or female voices, and one does not require a Wi-Fi or 3G connection to download the app.

Apple users can download Verbally from the iTunes app store. They can then use their fingers or stylus to tap sentences into the text box. Verbally runs on any iPad with iOS version 3.2 or a higher version.

If an earlier version of iOS is used, it can be upgraded to a recent version when one syncs his iPad with iTunes on a Mac or a PC.

Unfortunately, the product's development could not keep pace with the toll ALS was taking on Nirmala Godhwani.

She died a month before Verbally was launched this March. Intuary is now offering the app for free. It is available in Apple App Stores globally.

"We are at about 30,000 downloads. There have been downloads from India, too," says Ajay Godhwani.

He says his company released a premium upgrade in July. Users of the free version can upgrade to a set of new features for $99.

"We are thrilled that Verbally is being used in India and is helping people around the world. There is no doubt emerging markets such as India are vital to the continued success of the company, and we are working to ensure the products we create would make a big impact in these markets.

Our next product would be in the children's space, and would again be priced aggressively to ensure emerging markets can gain access to it," he adds.

Leslie Dmonte in Mumbai
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