Speech Therapy Robot Wins IU Innovation Challenge

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Tingyu Li (left) and Pavithra Ramamurthy pitch their "Buddy" speech therapy robot for children with cleft lip and palate. (photo courtesy Indiana University) Tingyu Li (left) and Pavithra Ramamurthy pitch their "Buddy" speech therapy robot for children with cleft lip and palate. (photo courtesy Indiana University)
BLOOMINGTON -

A robot designed to help children with cleft lip and palate with speech therapy has won the top prize at the Cheng Wu Innovation Challenge at Indiana University. The robot, named Buddy, was designed by two IU graduate students who earned $7,500 for taking first place.

Tingyu Li and Pavithra Ramamurthy designed the robot which uses storytelling to help children with speech therapy at home among friends and family. Buddy also uses visual references showing children how to pronounce words.

"When a child is practicing in a clinical setting, she is thinking about how she is pronouncing the word," Ramamurthy said. "In a home setting, children get excited and talk really fast. That is the context Tingyu and I want to give. In a more comfortable surrounding where they are more at ease, they can take on the engaging activities of storytelling and visualization. Their friends are participating, their family is participating. The children are not alone. And as they go through the process, they're using the words in continuous speech."

Li and Ramamurthy say they plan to use the prize money to build another prototype of Buddy. The first prototype features a 3-D printed body and an animated face on a smartphone, which uses voice-recognition software to allow for real-time feedback. The pair hope to recruit developers and engineers to bring Buddy to commercialization.

Two teams tied for second place in the competition, each earning $3,750. They include:

  • Pulsar-Based Terrestrial Navigation: Technology designed by Ph.D. student Derek Whitley, who says it "is a way to replace the use of GPS satellites and instead rely upon the radiation from a vast network of pulsars in space."
  • Small Donation-Big Impact: A project that aims to educate the public about the greater impact monetary donations have to food banks versus food donations.

"Freeing students from immediate commercial considerations for their technological innovations has liberated them and empowered them to come up with truly inspiring solutions," said Travis Brown, assistant dean for innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization at the IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. "Thanks to the generosity of alumnus Cheng Wu, the challenge has become an annual event that showcases the brilliance of our students and the breadth of disciplines that comprise the School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering."

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