TEC Edmonton - Software that’s a good listener
If you have kids or have been around them, those words have probably crossed your lips. For Megan Hodge, University of Alberta professor of speech pathology and audiology, these questions have become her passion.
In 2001, along with colleagues in linguistics and psychology, Hodge applied for grant funding from the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network to develop software that could gauge children’s spoken language intelligibility at the word and sentence level; specifically, how well their words can be understood by unfamiliar listeners. The software is targeted for children with speech disorders that are related to how the brain controls speech.
With this software, children three years and older are placed in front of a screen and an image appears, accompanied by an audio recording of what the image is. The audio recording contains up to seven words and the child is asked to remember and then repeat what he or she heard. Via a microphone, the software records the child’s response. Later, listeners are brought in to identify what the child said, based on the recordings. The software collects this information from listeners and analyzes the data. The results provide a measure of the child’s speech intelligibility, a useful indicator for the severity of a speech disorder and how this may change over time.
Word got out about Hodge’s software and the next thing she knew she was receiving messages from around the world with interest in licensing her technology. This was her first experience with technology transfer, which led Hodge to connect with the U of A’s technology transfer agent, TEC Edmonton.
Working with Darrell Petras, TEC Edmonton’s technology transfer manager, made it a very positive experience, says Hodge.“It has definitely been a partnership between us, a cross-education of sorts. Darrell is very knowledgeable and has been patient and helpful in walking me through the licensing process. I liked that he is responsive to my questions and concerns in a timely manner. In turn, he has learned a lot about working with speech-language pathology researchers and services.”
To date Hodge’s software has been licensed twice locally— to a speech therapy contractor for schools, who works in the Edmonton area, and to the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital – Alberta Health Services.
With the launch of her website increasing her exposure, Hodge has also licensed the software to the New Zealand’s Massey University, and is fielding requests from researchers across Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.
Petras continues to send out software transfer agreements (similar to an option agreement) letting researchers try out the technology for a short period of time, before they license it.
Hodge has some sage advice about her commercialization experience, “Developing and maintaining software is no simple feat. It requires time, human and financial resources. However, the end result—connecting my passion to a tool that can make a difference in a child’s life—well, that says it all.”