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UCL Enterprise Annual Review 2012/2013

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UCL PhD student launches pitch-perfect app for vocal monitoring

5 March 2013

An ear, nose and throat surgeon who is completing a PhD at UCL has launched a new app which is revolutionising our ability to detect and monitor changes to the voice.

Dr Hughes

The app – OperaVOX™ – was an idea that PhD student Owain Rhys Hughes conceived whilst working with children with severe voice problems at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Owain developed the app as he wanted a way to empower these patients to accurately monitor changes in their voice quality over time, without having to come into hospital to be tested on specialist equipment. Eighteen months ago, he partnered with audio signal processing and software development experts Dr Anil Alexander and Oscar Forth to develop the technology to do just that.

The result is OperaVOX™ – the On PErson Rapid VOice eXaminer – which delivers advanced voice analysis straight from an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

In developing the app, the OperaVOX™ team turned to Martin Birchall, Professor of Laryngology at UCL, who leads a group which includes researchers and speech and language therapists specialising in managing voice problems, including those experienced by professional singers and performers.

“Pursuing a PhD at UCL provided the ideal environment to conceive new ideas, and out of this, OperaVOX™ was born,” says Owain. “As well as my research, UCL has also offered ample and varied opportunities to develop the skills necessary to take those ideas to the market”.

OperaVOX

“I am always on the lookout for new technology that helps to improve the quality of care for my patients, and OperaVOX™ does just that”, added Professor Martin Birchall. “With OperaVOX™ I can give my patients the ability to very precisely monitor how their voice changes in response to treatment. Remote voice monitoring, such as is now possible with OperaVOX™, opens up exciting new opportunities both for my clinical practice and for voice research more broadly”.

Indeed, the app is already in use at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London. John Rubin – consultant surgeon and Lead Clinician at the hospital’s Voice Disorders Unit – has had direct experience of the benefits it can offer patients.  “I am using OperaVOX™ in my clinical practice as a simple and safe tool to offer my patients further insight into their own voices – it’s a technology likely to be particularly beneficial in providing direct feedback during vocal rehabilitation”.

Dr Anil Alexander, collaborator with Dr Hughes on OperaVOX™, praised the support they’ve had from the UCL community in developing their product, and the academic staff in particular.

“Working together has been particularly rewarding as the staff have been quick to recognize the potential mobile technologies can bring their patients,” says Anil. “They’ve also been keen to foster a strong and open collaboration with industry partners to help make these ideas a reality”.