seamlessCARE, an Irish digital health start-up, recently announced the launch of Empathic. This new app uses artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret the emotions being expressed by non-verbal individuals.
In most families and care settings, there is one person who understands each non-verbal individual, but it can be difficult for everyone else to know how that person is feeling.
Using the Empathic app, anyone can make a short recording to understand if the non-verbal person is expressing happiness, boredom, frustration or up to 10 emotions. This can help to improve quality of life for the non-verbal person and reduce the challenging behaviours that can result from frustration.
The Empathic app supports people who have fewer than 20 functional words, often described as ‘non-verbal’ or ‘minimally verbal’. It is designed for individuals who do not have the intellectual or physical capacity to type or to use other forms of assisted communication technologies. This may be due to an acquired brain injury, learning disability, stroke, autism, dementia or a range of other conditions.
seamlessCARE, headquartered at NovaUCD, in Dublin, was co-founded in 2021 by Dr Aviva Cohen, Dr Cagri Cubukcu and Ian Kennedy. A spin-out from the UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the company was established following the completion of Enterprise Ireland commercialisation funding.
Dr Aviva Cohen, CEO and co-founder, seamlessCARE said, “We are delighted to launch our unique app called Empathic. Two years of development and testing have shown that Empathic could have a significant impact on the quality of life for non-verbal people as well as their families and others who provide support. The inspiration for Empathic came from 14 years of caring for my late husband, Steve. He became non-verbal as the result of a severe stroke. Over time, I learnt to understand him, but it was always difficult for carers, friends and family to know how he was feeling.”
She added, “At seamlessCARE we are working to support non-verbal people with complex needs who cannot be easily understood. They are among the most technologically underserviced of all those with disabilities.”
The seamlessCARE team has been collecting thousands of vocalisations from non-verbal people to train the artificial intelligence that powers Empathic app. The AI is built exclusively on recordings from people who cannot use fluent language; in this way it differs from software that detects emotion in general conversation.
Earlier this year seamlessCARE secured €700,000 in seed funding from angel investor and former HSE chairman Dr Frank Dolphin and Enterprise Ireland.
seamlessCARE’s innovations build upon years of research by Dr Cohen who has a PhD from University of Essex in the areas of philosophy and psychoanalysis and she completed a Marie Curie/ASSISTID post-doctoral research Fellowship at UCD and Queen’s University Belfast.
The Empathic app is available from Google Play and the Apple App Store for €9.99 per month, with a seven-day free trial period. Each Empathic account supports up to three non-verbal people and the account holder can invite 20 ‘Companion’ users, without charge. These ‘Companion’ users might be teachers, carers, support workers, friends, family or anyone in a circle of support.
Empathic is also available for use in larger settings such as nursing homes, schools or respite centres as a mobile app or as an API (application programme interface).
Dr Cohen concluded, “At seamlessCARE we are committed to developing straightforward technologies that address real-world problems. Our second product, called Focus, is already in development. This is a video-based care planning API, accompanied by a user-friendly mobile app. Empathic and Focus are the first in a pipeline of technologies we are developing to promote respect, safety and efficiency when supporting people with complex needs.”
Last year seamlessCARE won the Best Application of AI in a Startup Award at the AI Ireland Awards and was a finalist in the Altice International Innovation Awards in Portugal.