LiRA: Building Communication Tools for Voiceless Individuals

Chapel Hill-based startup LiRA is developing communication tools for people who cannot produce speech. The company was founded by a team of five individuals from healthcare and biomedical engineering backgrounds and was spun out of the University of North Carolina (UNC). Led by CEO Andrew Prince, MD, LiRA has received grants and awards from various organizations, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), NC IDEA, The Clinton Foundation, Microsoft Partners, and Launch Chapel Hill.

LiRA aims to create an app that provides a voice for individuals who have lost the ability to produce speech, whether temporarily or permanently. Current communication options such as writing, gesturing, or using picture boards are inefficient and cause frustration for voiceless individuals and their caregivers. LiRA’s app seeks to eliminate this frustration by offering an easy-to-use lip reading app that can translate lip movements into speech within seconds, both as text and audio.

The initial focus of LiRA’s app is to support people experiencing “critical voicelessness” during hospitalization. This could include patients with severe respiratory illnesses or those using breathing tubes. In the long term, LiRA aims to develop an app with a robust vocabulary that can be used in everyday life.

To train their lip-reading algorithm, LiRA has partnered with Covintus, a development company, to create LipTrain. This platform allows anyone to contribute selfie videos to help teach LiRA’s algorithm about lip reading. The more contributors and sentences provided, the more accurate the translation becomes. Over 1600 people have already submitted videos to support this initiative.

Since its inception in 2020, LiRA has secured more than $600k in non-dilutive funding and has an additional $500k in earmarked investor funds. The team plans to turn to crowdfunding to involve investors in the finalization process of the minimum viable product (MVP). By the end of 2023, LiRA intends to start testing the technology with actual users.

LiRA’s vision is to utilize both crowdfunding and crowdsourcing to support the development and implementation of their communication tools. The company is grateful for the support they have received and hopes that the public will continue to contribute to their mission of improving the lives of voiceless individuals through technology.