One of the major problems right now with tackling the novel coronavirus is that tests aren’t widely available for everyone. To help fix that, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have developed a free, experimental app that uses artificial intelligence to detect whether a person may or may not have covid-19.
The app, called COVID Voice Detector, aims to detect covid-19 by analysing a person’s voice and is the result of a collaborative effort between CMU researchers and voice scientists and engineers who work on “voice forensic technologies” from voca.ai, telling.ai, and hat-ai.com, as well as Incremental Healthcare LLC.
Here’s how it works: After creating a login, you’re walked through a series of vocal prompts that include coughing three times, reciting the alphabet, and holding out vowels for as long as you possibly can to measure your lung capacity. The whole process takes roughly five minutes, and in the end, you receive a rating on a scale of 1-10 of how likely your “voice carries signatures of covid-19.” Your score is based on how your voice signatures compare against those of known covid-19 patients that the researchers have tested. You’re also prompted to provide your demographic data, like height and weight, as well as whether you’ve been diagnosed with covid-19, or if you have symptoms like a fever.
“There is a growing shortage of medical testing facilities. Tens of thousands of potentially infected people who need to be tested do not have easy access to medical tests,” the app’s site reads. “Our goal is to develop a voice-based testing system for covid-19, that could potentially reach every person in the world.”
That said, it’s important to understand that this isn’t a replacement or a medically approved diagnostic tool. The site itself is plastered in disclaimers that this is an experimental app that is “still very much under development.” It also notes that it’s not comparable to a covid-19 test administered by a doctor, and is not approved by the CDC or the FDA. Even if you take the test and get a high rating, you can’t fully trust the accuracy of the results as it’s based on a limited data set. However, the researchers say it will improve if more people—both healthy and infected—contribute their voice data.
While scientists in the past week have developed more rapid covid-19 tests, in the U.S. testing is still limited to those exhibiting severe symptoms or in need of hospitalisation. (Unless of course, you’re rich and/or famous.) You should take this experimental site with a grain of salt, but it could be a helpful supplemental tool for those of us stuck at home wondering whether a cough is just a cough or a portent of something more serious.