OtoSense is an app that hears and learns the sounds of the world


From wailing fire engines to the piercing shrill of smoke alarms, sounds are often the first to warn us of trouble. OtoSense, a new app in the Google Play store, aims to recognize and translate these sounds and others for people with hearing loss, converting them into vibrations, flashes, and other cues that they can see or feel.

French entrepreneur Sebastian Christian founded OtoSense in Cambridge this year with the goal of offering people with hearing loss a helpful tool.

Otosense-2“I realized that there was one problem that was not addressed,” Christian said. Teaching and working as a speech pathologist for 15 years, he observed that existing hardware for assistive hearing is expensive and not compatible with the smart machines that people carried around in their pockets and purses. So he decided to create an app.

Christian’s idea won him a place in the New Technology Venture Accelerator, a France-USA partnership, bringing him to Boston last fall.  About a year later, OtoSense is launching in the Google Play store, with an iOS app shortly to follow.

Unlike apps like Shazam, which can identify musical tunes, or speech recognition apps, OtoSense’s strength is the broad range of basic sounds that the software can identify: Door bells, oven timers, fire alarms, the dings that tell you the subway door is about to close.

OtoSense will recognize the sound and translate it into a customizable visual alert. The app links with two devices so far. The Pebble smart watch and the Phillips Hue smart light, are both connected to your smartphone already. When the doorbell rings, you can program the smart watch to display alert, and or get the Hue light to blink. Christian is developing links with other services too.

The app launches with a native library of general sounds, but someone who downloads it can introduce it to the unique alerts in their own home and life. The app can learn the noise of a washing machine bell, or a kettle whistle for example, and alert the owner accordingly. After a 10-day free trial the app will cost $8.

Massachusetts commuters will be among the first to benefit. OtoSense has a partnership with Keolis, a French company that runs the Massachusetts MBTA Commuter Rail. Keolis will initially link to the Otosense app within its official Commuter Rail app. The upcoming plan is to integrate the OtoSense technology within the commuter rail application, Christian said.

Meanwhile, OtoSense has an ongoing partnership with Boston General Hospital for research and development, and the next goal is the develop a version of the app as a real-time sound translator for deaf children.

The company has received seed funding from individual investors in the US and France and raised $360,000 from the Keiretsu Forum.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at [email protected]
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