Former Prince Albert resident invents voice to text mask

A man who grew up in Prince Albert is behind the creation of a new technology that will help hard of hearing or deaf people communicate.

While the COVID-19 pandemic provided the spark for the idea, Brian Kendall says the possible applications extend far beyond a mask.

“It’s not just a mask. It’s more a technology of speech to LED. The mask is catching on because it’s on the top of people’s minds,” said Kendall.

A person’s words show on top of the mask as they talk, but Kendall says it also works on other items, like hats or buttons, like closed captions in LED letters. 

He started tinkering with the idea at the start of 2021 and has working prototypes. He is trying to build some momentum for the invention before he starts a Kickstarter campaign.

“It’s not a gimmick thing and it’s not just for the pandemic. It’s a hard of hearing thing,” he said.

Kendall’s father has dementia and Kendall noticed when he visits that his father would pay close attention to words.

His father lives with dementia in a care home so Kendall noticed that the elderly people were having difficulty communication between masks and plexiglass.

“I noticed that my dad with his dementia could always read my t-shirts if I had a t-shirt with words on it,” he said. He could also watch TV and read the text even while he could not carry a face-to-face converstation.

“I would put this on and talk to him and it was just like voodoo magic, he’d be repeating the words.”

Kendall said he saw a mask that had a screen on it that made a smiley face and immediately thought that it would work very well for speech.

“That’s when the lightbulb started coming on,” he said. “I’m also a musician and I know that masks are taking away the high frequencies and that’s why people have a difficult time hearing. We need masks that show your words, not just a gimmick mask,” he said.

At first he was hesitant about the mask application because he knows everyone is fairly tired of having to wear them so he approached others about the idea.

“I got a lot of opinions from hearing groups and things like that and the response from them was very, very positive,” he said. 

However, these masks are not for the advantage of the general population.

“It’s not for you if you’re a hearing person and you don’t have anybody with hearing loss,” Kendall explained.

He knows the idea can go further than masks so he has developed a phone app and a wearable badge as well.

“It’s more of a line of products. I can see the applications in hospitals, retail offices, care homes,” he said.

Because he also knows that the other things hard of hearing people need to buy, such as hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, he made his mask affordable at around $40 each.

He also made them as easy to use as he could, the user pushes a button and words start showing up on the mask.

The electronics in the mask are removable so it can be washed and there is a filter inside as well.

“People are saying this is life-changing for us, we’ve been cut right off,” Kendall said. He also anticipates that masks will be around for a bit longer and that some people will continue to wear them afterwards.

Kendall also wants people to know that the masks will not be limited to English.

“If I’m in Quebec, I can be talking in English and order a coffee and the Quebecer will see it in French,” he explained.

The masks are already ready to go but the Kickstarter campaign will allow him to use a better chip when he gets his initial order.

The campaign product is called VoiceViewer and is on Facebook and has a website too.

People will probably be able to start buying them in about a month.