Google is rolling out two new accessibility tools for Android in a limited capacity that will help users who are either born deaf or lose their hearing to interact more easily with their surroundings. The new tools are called Sound Amplifier and Live transcribe and suit two very different purposes. One enables live closed-captions of a real-world conversation while the other acts as a kind of noise cancellation for everyday environments.
Sound Amplifier is the more directly integrated of the two tools. It comes pre-installed on the Google Pixel 3 series of handsets and works on Android 9 Pie devices. As its name implies, the tool is used to amplify some sounds while dampening others with a series of sliders.
With Sound Amplifier, users plug in a pair of headphones and then, after turning on the feature in the settings menu or following the steps appearing in the notification shade, are able to fine-tune the noise of their surroundings. That includes a toggle to reduce undesired noises, boost sounds, adjust the level of noise cancellation, and the ability to have different settings for the left and right ear.
Live Transcribe is rolling out as an 'unreleased' beta for now and gives a real-time text readout of speech caught by the handset's microphone. It functions in a much more app-like function, so users can pull it up or put it away as needed, and works in over 70 languages in its current iteration.
The Live Transcribe system allows for more of the context of the captioned speech to translate over too, with punctuation and other visual cues adding more 'nuance' to the readout. For those who have difficulty with vocalizing speech, responses can be typed so that the whole conversation doesn't require multiple apps.
Live Transcribe will work on handsets running Android 5.0 Lollipop or newer.
Making Android a better listener
The concept behind Live Transcribe is the brainchild of Google research scientist Dimitri Kanevsky and created in collaboration with Gallaudet University. The AI-powered tool is intended to work similarly to the services used by Mr. Kanevsky in business meetings and other professional settings but without the hassle and in the broader world. Specifically, Google says the tool emulates a service called CART, which provides captioning in from a translator joining real-world conversations virtually.
To better emulate CART, the tool needed to allow for real-time language switching at the touch of a button but also needed to work across a variety of circumstances. As a result, Live Transcribe is likely to be the more far-reaching tool.
In addition to the abovementioned features, Live Transcribe works with wired, USB, or Bluetooth mics. It also features indicators to help gauge environmental noise compared to the speech of the conversation. Users can turn on haptic feedback to signal when somebody begins talking or continues talking. Transcripts, while created using a cloud-based set of algorithms, are only stored on-device for improved privacy.
Both of Google's latest accessibility apps are currently available on the Play Store in a somewhat limited capacity, as outlined above. Sound Amplifier was unveiled initially at Google I/O 2018 back in May. There doesn't appear to be any indication as to when the search giant will finalize a rollout for Live Transcribe beyond its current 'unreleased' status on the app marketplace.
That means that both of Google's latest accessibility features are available now and should be available soon if they aren't already but there's no guarantee it will work with any specific devices outside of the company's own Pixel 3 flagships.