Sonde Health partners with Qualcomm on vocal biomarker tech


Sonde Health has joined forces with chipmaker Qualcomm to develop a technology platform that could diagnose human health conditions from a short sample of speech. 

The two companies will make sure that Sonde Health's vocal biomarker platform is optimised for use with Qualcomm chips used to power 5G mobile devices, saying this could unlock a number of health screening and monitoring applications.

The Sonde One platform uses audio signal processing and machine learning to identify changes in the human voice that could indicate they have an illness, an approach also being pursued by other groups including Cambridge University, Carnegie Mellon University, US company Hyfe and UK start-up Novoic.

Sonde Health claims that with only a six-second voice sample it may be possible to detect symptoms of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other respiratory illnesses – and can also be used as an early warning system for COVID-19.

The algorithm that underpins the screening tool – originally developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory – detects speech features in human voices that indicate a person has respiratory symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.

If that capability is built into a smartphone, for example, users with chronic conditions like asthma might be able to have their breathing continuously monitored by the device in the background, without having to maintain daily respiratory diaries.

Boston, Massachusetts-based Sonde Health – a PureTech Health company – is also exploring the use of vocal biomarkers to detect mental health conditions by monitoring other speech patterns like pitch, harmonics, and articulation timing.

"Bringing the vocal biomarker technology directly into mobile hardware will make new health features more useful and secure," said David Liu, the company's chief executive.

"This collaboration marks a tremendous boost to our growth strategy, a vote of confidence in our technology, and a giant leap forward for preventive and personalised health care," he added.

Last year, Sonde Health launched a developer portal to make it easier for third-party companies to incorporate its technology into their Android and iOS apps.

The deal with Qualcomm – which makes the chips found in just about every Android phone on the market – means that device makers will also be able to enable vocal biomarker monitoring as a feature for users.

"We are excited to talk to OEMs to explore new ways to deploy innovative health monitoring capabilities that users will soon come to expect from their web-enabled products," said Liu.

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