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Posted on March 17, 2016

We have recently been granted our first patent, for the Chat History feature in Grid 3 – our AAC software used all over the world by people with disabilities to enable them to communicate.

Our Technical Director, Barney, invented the feature. Meet Barney and find out how he explains Chat History, where his inspiration came from and what was involved, in his own words:

Chat History enables people to repeat things that they have said before, taking into account where they are located and what they are talking about.

The ultimate aim of communication aid software such as Grid 3 is to enable people to say whatever they want with a minimum of time and effort.  I had been analysing the content of my own conversations, and observed that I often say the same things to the same people in the same places – for example, when ordering in a coffee shop or visiting a relative.

I had been thinking for a long time about ways to present suggestions from all of the things you’ve ever said with your communication aid so that you could repeat them quickly.  The reason this is a hard thing to do well is that we all say so much!  It requires context to narrow the suggestions: who are you talking to and what are you talking about.

We could ask the communicator to input this data manually, for example by selecting a cell that indicates they are in a coffee shop, but this puts the burden on the user.  The insight that lead to the development of the search algorithm that underpins Chat History was the way that Grid 3 could automatically infer the context of the conversation.

Many recent communication aids can detect your location using GPS, cell phone towers or WiFi networks.  We can now prioritise suggestions for things that you have said before at the same location.

This said, one of my main concerns was the privacy implication of recording what you have said and where you have said it.  We made sure that there were user-accessible privacy options in Grid 3, and also present the option to disable recording prominently when you start using the software.

In terms of how I would like to develop Chat History for the future – I’d like to bring in more types of context to improve suggestions, whilst respecting the privacy of the person using the communication aid and other people in the conversation.  I’d love to explore using voice recognition to detect what the other person or people in the conversation are saying and use this to improve suggestions for responses, but it would be hard to obtain consent for this from everyone you speak to.

Another idea is to detect who you are speaking to – through facial recognition, voice recognition or detecting their mobile phone – and then prioritise content from previous conversations with that person.  Once again, there are privacy implications that need serious consideration.

Creating Chat History was only one component of many throughout the writing of Grid and it wouldn’t be the feature it is without my friends on the Grid 3 development team.  Tim coded the first implementation of the chat history feature, and Jason H helped make it work fast enough.  Gemma helped collate and proof read the library of pre-stored phrases that is the starting point for everyone’s vocabulary.

It is great for us as a company to be granted our first patent – it helps us show how much innovation goes on behind the scenes to create products such as Grid 3.

Our Chat History technology works with both text and symbol communication:

Find out more about text communication in Grid 3

Find out more about symbol communication in Grid 3

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