Cambridgeshire engineering firm offers solution to key communication challenge during pandemic

13th January 2021

From personal protective equipment to diagnostics and even potential cures, businesses and research institutions in the Tech Corridor are leading the fightback against the Coronavirus.

Cambridgeshire-based engineering firm, 42 Technology was asked by local Addenbrooke’s Hospital to help find a practical solution to help deaf healthcare workers who rely on lip-reading to continue working when everyone was wearing opaque face masks.  When the pandemic started, and everyone working within the healthcare sector had to wear masks, they made it almost impossible for anyone who lip-reads or uses sign language, which also relies on seeing lip patterns and facial expressions.  Although the clinical engineering team at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust had started to develop prototype clear masks, they were keen to explore alternative solutions that may have been quicker to implement.

42 Technology’s researched options and proposed a free Google app, called Live Transcribe and Sound Notifications, used on a low-cost Android smartphone or Android smartwatch costing around £50.  The phone could be worn either on the user’s lapel or kept visible on the forearm using a sports arm strap.  Alternatively, the recommended smartwatch which featured a larger screen could be used or enhanced with a Bluetooth microphone for use in noisier environments.

The app automatically transcribes text in near-real-time, it can be enlarged on the screen so it’s easily read, and custom words, such as specialist medical terms, can be added into the dictionary if required.  The electronics team at 42 Technology also contacted Google’s app development team to verify that conversations processed on their servers are not recorded or stored on them.

Richard Prudence, an electronics engineer at 42 Technology who worked with Addenbrooke’s Hospital on the project, said that the company’s proposed solution would allow an Android phone or other devices to be worn by the speaker or the deaf person as an alternative to clear face masks or asking someone to remove their mask.

“We thought the transcription app worked well, particularly in healthcare settings.  But it could equally be used by anyone needing an alternative to lip-reading now that face coverings are compulsory for all indoor settings and on public transport.  The Google app uses existing off-the-shelf technology, and was fast and easy to set up compared with some other apps we trialled as part of this project.”

42 Technology’s suggestion isn’t an engineering breakthrough or even a propriety product, but by offering their expertise and research resources, 42 Technology were able to fast track solutions for the hospital to enable them to refocus their time elsewhere.

Here we’ve collated some of the other interesting projects taking place in the region in response to the pandemic on an interactive map. Click on the markers to discover what businesses in the region are up to.

If your company is working on a Coronavirus-related project that you think should be featured, email details to penny@techcorridor.co.uk for inclusion on the map.