Israeli Startup Vocalis Health is Partnering with the Government to Refine a Voice Test for Coronavirus
Israeli startup Vocalis Health is collecting voice samples as part of an initiative to develop a diagnostic test for COVID-19 infection by the sound of a user’s voice, one of a growing number of projects applying voice tech and artificial intelligence to combatting the ongoing pandemic. Supported by the Israeli government, Vocalis is also gathering voice data on people recovering from the novel coronavirus at home to help track when they may need medical intervention.
Vocalis has two coronavirus-related projects. The startup is partnering with academic and healthcare groups to collect voice samples from the public to build a database of voice data that could help isolate the vocal indications of COVID-19 infection. The other initiative, coordinated with the Israeli Ministry of Defense, provides a mobile app to people who have confirmed infections to get regular voice samples and see how their progression and recovery from the virus affects their voices.
Vocalis was officially founded a year ago after existing health tech startups Beyond Verbal and Healthymize agreed to merge. The company already offers a tool for identifying and monitoring respiratory illness and for when hospitalization may be needed based on vocal biomarkers. The pandemic has attracted new interest specifically on how the technology might apply to COVID-19.
Vocalis is well-positioned to explore using voice tech to determine whether someone has COVID-19 infection and how ill they are, but it is not alone. It isn’t even the only Israeli startup working on the idea. Enterprise voice assistant developer Voca.ai and Carnegie Mellon University are also building a database of voices for assessing COVID-19 infection. That test analyzes the probability of infection by examining the sound of someone’s voice and their cough. Looking for telltale biomarkers in voice and cough sounds is also the basis Indian startup Salcit Technologies’ kAs app. The main difference is that both Voca and Vocalis are refining their tests with data gathered regularly from a growing population of volunteers, while Salcit is designing around individual coughing sounds.
All of these projects share the same overarching theory of vocal biomarkers and the goal of reducing the burden on healthcare systems. Vocal tests doable at home are a lot faster and cheaper than medical tests for the virus. Even if they only suggest a probability of infection, that still could lower the number of people going to the hospital because they are unsure if they have it. Digital triage tools that allow medical providers to devote resources where they are most needed are crucial during the pandemic. It’s why healthcare organizations are designing voice and chatbots using Microsoft templates or platforms provided by companies like Orbita and Hyro. Vocal tests and the resulting databases may indirectly save lives in the months ahead and help medical researchers spot and eliminate health problems for a long time to come.