For the second year in a row Marco Polo will be featured during the Department of Computer Science’s
(DCS) signature event, Research in Action (RIA).Marco Polo is a mobile
app and server system that transforms smartphones and computer tablets into customizable,
location-aware speaking aids for people with communications disorders caused by
stroke, autism spectrum disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Participating in this year’s RIA will be
particularly meaningful for the Marco Polo team. Last year, the group was
encouraged at RIA to turn their research into a commercial product. This
January, Marco Polo is launching as a commercially available product.
“More than 90% of people with
communication disabilities use primitive communication aids, or no aids at
all,” says Marco Polo Project Lead, Alexander Levy. “Marco Polo will both lower the
cost of assistive and augmentative communication technologies while also providing
Marco Polo is the first AAC device with
location-aware vocabulary that suggests useful words and phrases based on a
user’s location. At Tim Horton’s, for example, Marco Polo
instantly generates items like “Tim Bits” and “Double Double” for use in
conversation. The device will also feature a $30 per month subscription
model, compared to the up to $20,000 cost of traditional speaking devices.
Along with already receiving funding from Google,
Android, and NSERC, Marco Polo has received requests from institutions,
collaborators, and school boards to trial the technology with their
constituents. In Toronto, both the Aphasia Institute (Canada’s premiere
organization of its kind) and Toronto Rehab’s main assistive technology clinic
will both begin key studies of the system. Meanwhile, the Toronto
District School Board, will also trial the device in special needs classrooms.
Internationally, individual users and educators in Colorado,
Michigan, Vermont, and Wisconsin also intend to be among Marco Polo’s first users.
Fahiem Bacchus, Acting Chair of DCS, sums up the
excitement within the department by stating “Marco Polo is an example of the
groundbreaking research developed within our department and also the commitment
our students have to solving real world problems. Marco Polo has the capacity to impact
the quality of communications for those requiring assistive devices and we’re
proud of our students for their commitment to creating such a valuable