Belfast lip-reading tech firm Liopa has secured funding from Innovate UK in its Funding Competition for Business-led Innovation in Response to Global Disruption.

The undisclosed financial award is part of a £40m package from the UK government to bolster technology and research-focused companies who are working to build resilience during the Covid crisis.

Liopa has received the investment for research and development into its its SRAVI application, a communications aid for patients who cannot speak, such as those who have a tracheostomy as a result of Covid complications.

SRAVI provides automated lip reading in a mobile phone app, so people can communicate with healthcare workers, or their friends and family, while they cannot use their voice.

The product is being trialed in a pilot study with the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, led by Consultant in Critical Care and Anaesthesia, Shondipon Laha.

Dr Laha said of the project:“Covid has created significantly more patients with tracheostomies. There is a great deal of interest, on a national scale, in the rehabilitation and long-term challenges of caring for Covid patients. Any communications aid, including SRAVI, is a badly needed lifeline for these patients.”

Patients who have been tracheostomized as a result of being on ventilators will sometimes have the tracheostomy in place for up to four weeks, Dr Laha indicated.

“For those patients, engaging with SRAVI to communicate may improve their outcomes,” he said.

“This prototype, trialed successfully on our critical care unit, shows very exciting results.”

Liam McQuillan, CEO of Liopa added: “The further funding award from Innovate UK will make it possible for us to widen the scope of our R&D efforts for SRAVI. Eventually it will mean we can roll SRAVI out to more types of patients, such as those who have suffered paralysis or strokes. We are dedicated to helping bring a voice to the voiceless.”

Liopa was one of fifty firms to be named on BusinessCloud’s recent Northern Ireland Tech 50.