Vocalis Health Completes COVID-19 Voice Test Pilot in Mumbai
Vocalis Health has wrapped up a three-month pilot program of its COVID-19 voice test in Mumbai, India. The Israeli voice tech startup will now analyze the more than 2,000 resulting voice samples collected, with the potential to expand the testing program in the city next year.
Vocalis brought its diagnostic test, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze a patient’s voice for telltale sounds of the virus, to Mumbai in August. The startup collaborated with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) civic authorities to run the pilot program at a health center set up for COVID-19 patients in Mumbai. To test for potential coronavirus infection, patients created a sample of their voice using a mobile app created by Vocalis. The AI then compared the voice sample against an audio database from people confirmed to have COVID-19, looking for shared vocal biomarkers. After about 30 seconds, the AI reported if the patient’s voice suggests coronavirus infection. The patient was then given the standard swab test for the virus to see how the AI’s diagnosis compares. Each patient would also provide a second voice sample when discharged from the facility.
The collected data will be used to measure how effective and reliable the voice test is, pooled with data gathered by related projects Vocalis is running. The goal is to supplement biological coronavirus tests on a larger scale. Vocalis started working with several academic and healthcare organizations to gather public voice samples to grow its database of voices and improve the diagnostic test back in April. That was also when the startup began coordinating with the Israeli Ministry of Defense to get people confirmed to be infected to use the Vocalis app and send repeated voice samples over time to measure how the virus affects their voice and the vocal biomarkers the AI is looking for over an extended time.
Vocalis isn’t the only company developing this kind of AI-powered coronavirus diagnostic, though. Fellow Israeli tech firm Voca.ai has also been working on the idea, partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to build 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. India also has a homegrown version of the test created by Salcit Technologies called kAs. kAs uses the coughs of individuals to measure the likelihood of infection instead of how Voca and Vocalis are refining their tests with data from a large crowd.
If the voice test performs as well as hoped report, Vocalis plans to report the results of the study next year. Assuming the data finds the voice test as useful and accurate as hoped, the test will be made available to more Indian hospitals. A reliable 30-second voice test could, at the very least, help conserve tests for those who are more likely to be infected, ideally lowering hospital loads. The recent good news about vaccines aside, COVID-19 cases are spiking in many countries. A way to better determine the probability of infection and triage patients would be a boon to medical providers.