2016 Student Research & Design Competition: Tone of Voice in AAC Systems

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The RERC on AAC is excited to announce a Student Research and Development Competition to advance understanding and enhance AAC technologies to improve outcomes for individuals with complex communication needs.

The 2016 Competition is designed to stimulate research and development on the topic of tone of voice in speech ouput for AAC systems.

The competition deadline is May 12, 2016.

A Research and Development Award (up to a total of $4,000) is available to the first place student project. $2,500 of the award funds can be used by the first place student team to support approved expenses to further the project, including additional research and development activities and/or dissemination activities (e.g., travel to visit a research mentor, conference travel and registration, etc).  $1,500 of the award funds is also available to the first place student project to support attendance at  2016 RESNA conference.


What is the challenge?

AAC systems can provide powerful tools for communication for persons with complex communication needs. However, people who use AAC have very little expressive control over the tone of voice in their AAC device (Pullin & Hennig, 2015).  Current technology does not easily support the ability of a person using AAC technology to produce a spoken message which sounds happy, sad, inquisitive, angry – to convey the emotional content that is critical to successful communication. There is a need to better understand how tone of voice could be incorporated into AAC systems, and to develop innovative solutions that will provide access to tone of voice for people who use AAC.

Entries for this competition should advance our understanding of how to incorporate tone of voice into AAC systems. Submissions can address research or design issues (please information on submission format below).

Who can enter?

The competition is open to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, worldwide. We encourage entries from any student(s) with an interest in the topic, and the competition is open to students from any major ( e.g., computer science, computer engineering, linguistics, speech language pathology). While students can work with faculty on a project, the submission should clearly reflect the work of the student (or student team). We welcome a wide variety of approaches to this topic.

What is the submission format?

We welcome submissions that address issues of research and/or development. The submission document should be approximately 10 pages in length. Full details are available at  RERC on AAC voice submission guidelines.

Submissions should be send as attachments to an email addressed to rerc.aac@gmail.com

Where can entrants find more information?

The following resources provide information on the concept of tone of voice, and tone of voice in AAC

  • Portnuff, C. (2007). AAC: A user’s perspective. (webcast)
  • Pullin, G., & Hennig, S. (2015). 17 ways to say yes: Toward nuanced tone of voice in AAC and speech technology. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31, 170-180. (PDF)
  • Perkins, R. (2015). Words can deceive – Tone of voice cannot. USCnews (weblink)
  • Markoff, J. (February 14, 2016). Creating a computer voice that people like. New York Times (weblink)

Entrants are also strongly encouraged to partner with persons who use AAC in order to obtain a better understanding of their perspective on the nature of the challenge and desired features of solutions.


Questions may  be addressed to David McNaughton at RERC.AAC@gmail.com. Responses to general questions will be posted here.




The RERC on AAC Student Research and Design Competition is a collaborative activity with RESNA. 
All entrants are encouraged to also submit their work to the RESNA Student Design competition and the RESNA Student Scientific Paper competition. Please note that the RESNA competitions have slightly different deadlines and submission guidelines.


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