Sonde Health Debuts Mental Health Vocal Biomarker App and API
Vocal biomarker tech startup Sonde Health has debuted a tool for someone’s mental health based on the sound of their voice. The company packaged the new Sonde Mental Fitness feature into an app for both iOS and Android and an API that healthcare providers and wellness services can incorporate into their products.
The Sonde Mental Fitness software asks users to speak for 30 seconds by answering a couple of generic questions. The AI then analyzes the audio for indications of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and other clues to their current mental state. The audio signal processing and machine learning tech developed by Sonde Health continually upgrades the software’s accuracy. Depending on the score and preferences of the user, Sonde will offer advice to improve moods and transcribe some of the original audio into a journal that someone will. The mental health angle tacks a whole new realm of healthcare to Sonde, which has primarily been focused on vocal biomarker tests for COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.
“We focus on the audio side of voice AI. For us, it’s about how the acoustic characteristics of voice give some indication something not quite right about your health condition,” Sonde Health CEO David Liu told Voicebot in an interview. “We have over a million samples in our vocal biobank and are approaching 100,000 individuals. “Detecting mental [biomarkers] is different from respiratory distress, but we’re the only multiple health [condition] detection and monitoring in the country.”
Liu pointed to the inextricable link between mental and physical well-being as a logical reason to widen Sonde’s tests to include both. Medical doctors and psychiatrists can leverage the tech for their treatment plans. There’s a real demand for mental triage and treatment as nearly half of adults in the U.S. claimed some depression or anxiety. And while 97% of large companies include mental health services, only 5.5% of employees use them. If people took a more active role in their own mental health, Liu believes the sharp divide.
“I believe we can provide people with the information to stop and treat these [conditions] way ahead of the time they might have planned. It doesn’t mean we can catch everything, but the test can create awareness,” Liu said. “We can apply what we learn to improve [the API] and lay the groundwork for detecting other health conditions.”
Vocal biomarker tools for measuring health started popping up in earnest last year. Vocal biomarkers are how Vocalis Health designed a voice test for COVID-19 that accurately determines infection 81.2% of the time. Voca.ai also worked on the idea, partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to build a database of voices for assessing COVID-19 infection by examining the sound of someone’s voice and their cough. Indian startup Salcit Technologies built its own cough-based coronavirus test called kAs. Purely academic researchers even published a paper exploring how AI analysis of people speaking can identify those at a high risk of heart failure.
“Everyone should be able to have a voice-powered health check in their pocket.” – Sonde Health CEO David Liu
“Biomarkers have been untapped but are riding a wave of digital health and remote health interest. If you think about it, voice is the most ubiquitous biomarker. It’s always there,” Liu said. “We can give early warnings and overall mental health checks from specific vocal features.”
Money is flowing toward mental health AI startups too. In September, Ellipsis Health scored $26 million to grow its depression and anxiety voice test. A few weeks earlier, fellow mental health vocal biomarker startup Kintsugi had closed an $8 million funding round. AI’s value for mental healthcare is also on the upswing judging from the $90 million that therapy chatbot developer Woebot raised in July. Offers will likely mushroom in the years ahead. Sonde is setting itself up to sweep its rivals by readying two tests at once, with more in the works. In the long-term, Liu said he wants the Sonde Mental Fitness to gather data quietly like a fitness tracker and relied upon as much as any smartwatch or FitBit.
“Our [tech] is not only these biomarkers. Voice is so ubiquitous and simple to use that everyone should be able to have a voice-powered health check in their pocket to give early warning signals.”