Google on Tuesday announced a new collaboration with Swedish technology maker Tobii Dynavox that brings Google Assistant to Dynavox’s devices and mobile apps.
In Google’s blog post, product manager Praveen Chandran wrote the company has worked with Dynavox to integrate Google Assistant into the latter’s Snap Core First software. Snap Core is a symbol-based application that enables the communicatively impaired with a means of communication using simple, icon-like pictures similar to PECS. But it isn’t only for communication—this new functionality also allows Dynavox users to control their smart home setup and more using Google’s venerable digital assistant. Additionally, Chandran said users can benefit from the Action Blocks app, which was announced earlier this year, utilizing similar concepts. “Starting today, Tobii Dynavox’s library of tens of thousands of Picture Communication Symbols can now be used to create Action Blocks buttons,” he wrote. “[P]eople who might be accustomed to assistive technology for communication can use a familiar interface on their Android phones and tablets.”
Dynavox is a household name to people who work in accessibility-related fields such as speech pathology and special education. The company specializes in augmentative and assistive communication devices and software, colloquially known as AAC. AAC devices like those from Dynavox generally consist of eye- or head-tracking hardware run by a picture-based communication system. This technology is meant for use by individuals with certain cognitive and/or speech disabilities.
In an interview conducted over email, Tobii Dynavox CEO Fredrik Ruben told me his team had several goals in mind when collaborating with Google on bringing Assistant support to Dynavox. He acknowledged “everyone making home automation equipment today makes [their products] compatible with Google Assistant,” adding it is such a “great source” of on-demand information. Thus, the overarching goal was to provide people with communicative delays access to engage and create language.
Google and Dynavox’s plans took almost two years to come to fruition. “The collaboration began in January of 2019 between us and members of Google’s accessibility team,” Ruben said. “Many of our customers had been using text-to-speech to communicate to Google Home Hubs, Minis, or other smart speakers but this integration would free them from that—enabling access to Google’s rich collection of information, entertainment, and control resources from wherever they are with their device.”
Ruben noted the company’s Snap Core First app is “one of the most downloaded AAC apps on iOS and Windows.” It’s also the software that runs Dynavox’s own standalone AAC devices. The advantage of the deep integration of Google Assistant in Snap Core, he said, is users have access to the Assistant without the need for a Google Nest Hub or Google Mini. Moreover, Ruben added Google Assistant’s presence not only gives “tens of thousands of users” worldwide access to virtually every speck of human knowledge, such empowerment also instills greater senses of independence and self-esteem in these users.
Ruben noted the group of beta-testers have been enthusiastic and “very positive so far.” As for long-term projection, he said Dynavox has “a number of exciting things on the radar” and is closely tracking what Google does to improve Assistant going forward. An example he cited is language support; as Assistant is localized in different places globally, Dynavox will update its software accordingly.
“This is hopefully just the beginning,” he said.