Tawi from Kenya tackles auditory processing disorder and wins Microsoft Imagine Cup

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Microsoft’s student tech-for-good competition, the Imagine Cup, has crowned this year’s winner: Tawi, a team from Kenya that applied machine learning tools to help children with auditory processing disorder (APD) better understand others.

APD is a hearing disorder in which someone hears sound just fine, but their brain has trouble processing it. This can lead to delays in learning and understanding speech, as well as everyday discomfort as communication takes more work and concentration.

John Onsongo Mabeya, Muna Numan Said, Syntiche Musawu Cishimbi and Zakariya Hussein Hassan founded Tawi because they all wanted to make something in educational technology and chose APD because one of the members has a sibling.

A hearing aid is usually prescribed as it can help isolate and emphasize voices. But depending on where you live, hearing aids can be difficult to obtain and maintain, and may not even be the right solution. Knowing what’s possible in real-time audio processing and subtitling, the team decided to create an APD-focused tool that works with a regular smartphone and headphones.

“Tawi is a Swahili name and in English it means sprouting leaf. Children are the budding generation and we wanted to do something for them so they could be lifted up and reach their full potential,” said Said.

Team Tawi’s app suppresses noise, emphasizes speech and converts that speech to text in real time, and can be configured for a child’s specific needs and hearing difficulties.

Image Credits: Team Tawi

“We believe that Tawi, which uses real-time speech recognition and amplification, can be a game changer for these children, enabling them to participate more fully in social and educational environments,” said Said in their project description. “Our hope is that Tawi will eventually become widely available and help address a critical community need.”

The eventual winner of the Imagine Cup, beating three regional finalists and several more category winners, will take home $100,000, some face time with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and “Level 2 access to the Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub”, which they hopefully find useful.

Tawi’s team along with their laptops. Image Credits: Team Tawi

The other two finalists also deserve a mention:

Cardiac self-monitoring device from Thailand: These kids have created a device that connects a stethoscope to a smartphone and uses machine learning to parse the incoming sound so people can check themselves for abnormalities.

Eupnea: An American team that uses AI to listen to tuberculosis patients’ coughs and recommend treatment options.

You can check out the other finalists in this recent blog post. Congratulations to everyone who made it!

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