Empathic helps everyone to understand how a non-verbal person is feeling. It uses AI to interpret short voice recordings of people who cannot use functional speech or most communication aids. This may be due to autism, Down’s syndrome, brain injury, learning disability, dementia or a range of other conditions.

People with complex needs may not have reliable facial expressions or body language due to the severity of their condition. When we don’t understand a person’s attempt to communicate it can lead to feelings of frustration, anger and isolation. This often contributes to low mood and frustration that may result in challenging behaviours such as aggression, self-harm and falls. There are also individuals who can communicate but experience episodes when they cannot express themselves in words; for example, when a person with autism experiences temporary sensory overload.

Many non-verbal people do not have the capacity to use sign language or standard assistive technologies. It is often the case that a primary carer or key worker is the only one who understands them. Empathic addresses this problem by enabling everyone to interpret up to 10 emotions; even if they have never met the non-verbal person before.

In 2019 we began working with families and health care providers to gather audio data from non-verbal individuals in real world settings. We measured sound waves and identified the characteristics specific to 10 emotions. Our research supports existing academic findings that show consistency across languages; our tests include English, Portuguese and Turkish. We also found significant similarities across diverse conditions such as autism, dementia and brain injury.

Extensive testing shows that using Empathic can reduce frustration and enhance mood. For example, we asked users to share the app’s interpretations with the non-verbal person they were supporting. They usually said something like “I see you are getting frustrated, let’s do something else” or “It shows me that you are happy, we’ll keep playing this music.” Users tell us that using Empathic helped to decrease frustration, improve mood and enhance interactions. Some users reported that the supported person became more sociable and increased their efforts to vocalise; as one mother put it “when she realised we were listening, she tried to talk to us more often, in her own way”.

We are about to launch Empathic for healthcare and home care providers. This offers a multiuser dashboard, reports and real time updates that can be accessed on any smart device. We are also working on hands free options for use in smart homes and sensory rooms.


Benefits of Empathic

Years of testing has shown that Empathic can:
• Improve the mood of the non-verbal person
• Reduce challenging behaviours
• Reduce injuries to staff and family members
• Lower the incidents of falls and self-harm
• Increase staff retention
• Enhance social engagement

The challenge

The inability to communicate can lead to low mood and frustration that may result in challenging behaviours such as aggression, self-harm and falls. When a non-verbal person uses their voice to communicate, there is often a close family member or support worker who knows how they are feeling. However, they may not be understood by others in their circle of support like teachers, special needs assistants, care workers, family members, therapists and other health care professionals.

How does Empathic work?

Most of us recognise the sound of laughter as an expression of happiness, this is consistent across many languages and cultures. Since 2019 we have been researching emotions and how artificial intelligence (AI) can help to interpret vocal expressions from individuals who cannot use words. This led us to develop Empathic with the support of University College Dublin, Queens University Belfast, non-verbal people, health care professionals and families.

To learn more about the science and technology behind Empathic, click here: Read More


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