In brief: If you or a loved one suffers from vocal or motor impairments and struggles to communicate through normal speech, Google might have a solution today. With the company's new experimental "Look to Speak" app, Android device owners can use their eyes to choose from a range of pre-written words and phrases, which will then be spoken aloud by their phone or tablet.
I haven't been able to test the app myself, but based on the reviews it has received so far, it sounds like it works pretty well. Some complain of eye strain during extended use, but for the most part, it seems to be a useful and functional piece of software.
Of course, it's always worth taking Play Store reviews with a grain of salt -- you never know how many are legit, after all. However, even if Look to Speak is in a rougher state than its 83 overwhelmingly glowing reviews suggest, we're happy to see Google test out accessibility-focused apps like this. It's a win-win situation: the more people Google brings into its ecosystem, the more potential customers (and sources of data, unfortunately) it can acquire.
For users, the benefits are obvious -- a simple, easy-to-use eye-tracking speech app could help immobilized individuals communicate their needs more efficiently and independently.
As one reviewer said, this technology's usefulness doesn't necessarily have to stop with speech-impaired folks, though: if you were able to simply look down at your phone on, say, a crowded subway, to initiate a call or Google search, that could be incredibly helpful. To be clear, that functionality isn't available in this app, but perhaps it could be in the future; the potential is certainly there.
As exciting as Look to Speak is for all of us, we should reiterate that it is just an experiment for the time being. The idea is solid, but Google is notorious for discarding and shutting down apps and services on a whim, so we wouldn't encourage any of our readers to get too attached to this app for the time being. Regardless, if you want to take it for a test drive, you can download it now from the Google Play Store.