New Innovators: Vocavio

Trinity spinout develops speech analysis software for workplace safety

Brian Vaughan specialises in emotional speech analysis and has turned his skill into a new business. Vocavio was set up in late 2013 and provides simulation and training technology companies with insights into team communication skills in mission/safety critical environments such as air transport and surgery.

“In these environments you typically have very well-trained and highly competent people. However, clarity of communication between team members is also of huge importance. Accidents in safety-critical environments are typically caused by short comings in non-technical skills, not in technical knowledge,” Vaughan says.

“Up to now, this was a very intangible skillset that was subjectively assessed and too compliance-driven. We have developed an evidence-based alternative,” he adds. “Our web-based technology processes team speech signals objectively and generates performance metrics that provide feedback on communication effectiveness, leadership, adaptability, teamwork and resilience. This information can then be used to accelerate training in non-technical skills.”

Vocavio’s first product is called CrewFactors and is aimed at the aviation sector. It is based around a short task and the team is monitored while completing it. The team gets a score at the end but the instructor can see who made more of an effort to accommodate other members, who spent time talking and who listened more. “The aim is not to criticise, it is to coach the team towards more effective communication,” Vaughan says.


Team of four

Vocavio is a spinout from

Trinity College Dublin

. It employs four people and, when its current funding round is complete, it will recruit another eight to cover technical, sales and marketing roles. Initial funding of €140,000 came from the Trinity College technology transfer office and

Enterprise Ireland

through its commercialisation fund.

There was also personal and private investment. The company is looking to raise €750,000 to accelerate its technical and commercial development.

CrewFactors was launched in March 2014 at a pilot training conference in the Royal Aeronautical Society in London. Vocavio's technology has been showcased at events in Dublin, Brussels, Berlin and Orlando. "We have marketed CrewFactors directly to air transport operators and simulation technology companies. Channel partners from the simulation technology industry and direct web sales will be key to our success in the coming years."

Vaughan estimates the value of the simulation and training sectors at over $12 billion a year and says the market is ripe for innovative products. “We know that providers of immersive training environments are not processing the speech data being generated during training. They are still using human observers and subjective scoring. Our plan is to layer our technology within these environments to provide rich insights into team dynamics and communication performance,”

The seed for what has become Vocavio grew out of research into non-verbal communication by Vaughan and his colleague, Celine De Looze, at the Centre for Language and Communication Studies in Trinity. "We knew the results of some of our experiments were interesting and decided to investigate how they might be practically applied in a sector where communication is key, namely aviation," Vaughan says. "We then worked with product development consultant Conor McKenna, who helped us determine the research could indeed benefit any industries where effective team communication skills were vital for safe outcomes."

Vocavio’s core technology is language agnostic, which means the technology has global sales potential. “Speech analysis has been used in call centres for several years now in various differing forms but there is little competition in our immediate area of simulation and training,” Vaughan says. “Speech data is emerging as another dataset that can provide organisations with rich insights into their people and training processes and we aim to be at the vanguard with our technology.”

Olive Keogh

Olive Keogh

Olive Keogh is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business