STEL x Cognixion | The Making of CXN ONE
Communication: it’s fundamental. Whether communicating verbally, through sign language, or with technology, it’s imperative to the human experience. If you think about it, where are we without a voice of our own? You use your voice to speak up for your beliefs, to articulate your opinion, and to communicate with the world–it’s a human right.
Individuals who experience speech disabilities have been fighting to find a voice of their own for too long. They have grown up in a society where accessibility is limited, and there hasn’t been focus in finding better solutions to their challenges. More specifically, the assistive technology industry has relied on repurposed consumer electronics, which are often years behind what is actually possible. This problem has continued to be a disservice to those who could benefit from this technology the most. The population in need has been given devices that are often outdated, immobile, and at times lacking in accessibility.
Cognixion–a neural interface startup based out of Santa Barbara– believes that every individual deserves a solution as unique as they are, no matter their background. When reminded of those affected by communication disabilities worldwide, Cognixion deems it should be possible to construct a single tool for communication, access, and everything else one might need assistance with. This was when our collaboration went into play. Together, STEL and Cognixion created a concept that extends abilities to the most vulnerable, giving those who need it a solution to better navigate the world.
Cognixion is known as a mission-driven company. From the beginning, their vocation has been to “unlock speech for the hundreds of millions of people who are affected by communication disabilities.” This purpose has been deeply embedded in every aspect of their work. Their aim is to provide both affordable and accessible equipment to those experiencing speech disabilities, so the world for these individuals will look and feel very different in the next decade.
Cognixion asks us to imagine “a world where there are thousands of creators, scientists, artists, engineers, change-makers, and philosophers just like Stephen Hawking, contributing to society now that they have a voice.” At the end of the day, they wish to create accessibility for all, no matter the circumstance.
THE RELATIONSHIP THAT CREATED THE CXN ONE
With Cognixion and STEL having complementary drives to create impactful products, working together on CXN ONE was an easy decision. Our collaboration began three years ago, when Co-Founders Pete Ducato and Ryan Olson connected with Cognixion’s founder, Andreas Forsland. With both Cognixion and STEL based out of Santa Barbara, Andreas was able to see firsthand what our in-house Industrial Design and Mechanical Engineering teams were capable of creating, as well as our team’s collective passion for creating impact through design and pursuing the things that inspire us everyday.
Since Cognixion traditionally specializes in software development, they needed a partner that could develop a physical platform that could leverage their groundbreaking programs. Through product design and prototyping, STEL was able to give shape to such a platform, allowing users to have a physically tangible embodiment of these life-changing communication tools.
MEET CXN ONE
STEL and Cognixion worked together to create a product that blurs the line between assistive technology and the world of communication. CXN ONE is the world’s first wearable speech generating device that combines a Brain Computer Interface with Augmented Reality to enable communication like never before. Designed to be entirely wireless, mobile, and robust, it goes wherever the user goes.
CXN ONE is usable by tetraplegic users with severe disabilities and individuals with progressive or acquired disabilities. The interface is compatible with those affected by ALS, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, Parkinsons, cerebrovascular incidents (CVI or stroke), and other acquired brain injuries where existing touch and/or eye tracking technologies are insufficient or difficult to use.
One primary goal in the design of the headset was to minimize the fatigue users had commonly experienced with previous assistive technologies, allowing them to wear the product for extended periods of time. By packaging various technologies within a unit that fits well, feels balanced, and is minimally obtrusive, users can feel more comfortable and confident in corresponding with the world around them.
“STEL’s main focus when creating the headset’s design was to always stay focused on the user. So we asked ourselves, what will make them more comfortable when wearing the headset? How long will the headset be used throughout the day? How do you blend a person with a device? We took note of the technical and ergonomic requirements when the design process started, but we also wanted to draw out specific feelings and emotions the user would experience when utilizing CXN ONE. We wanted the device to be approachable; for the user to be inspired to wear the product and feel a sense of confidence due to its simplicity and aesthetic appeal.”Marco Vanella, STEL’s Creative Director
CXN ONE’s final form needed to be accessible and comfortable for all types of people. Marco describes above how the aesthetics of the headpiece needed to feel human–not like an intimidating or awkward piece of intrusive equipment.
In regards to creating a package blending CXN ONE’s software with Marco’s design, STEL’s Director of Engineering Jared Naito worked on multiple prototypes in order to optimize the internal configuration of the headset.
“In addition to focusing on the ergonomics and aesthetics of the product, we also needed to pay close attention to the technical drivers and requirements for the headset. Fitting all of the signal acquisition and processing hardware that powers the CXN ONE inside a safe device with minimal mass and balanced weight distribution presented a host of challenges. In the end, though, we were successful in our endeavor to create a headpiece that was both aesthetically pleasing, confidence-inspiring, and able to function the way it was intended.”Jared Naito, STEL’s Director of Engineering
In the recent months, both STEL and Cognixion have received multiple recognitions and awards for their collaboration and work done on CXN ONE. In September of 2021, Cognixion ONE received a Gold Award in the IDSA IDEA Awards. In October, the device was nominated for a Red Dot Luminary Award, one of the five nominees chosen out of the 4,000 Red Dot entries received. We also were awarded ‘Best of the Best’ for the 2021 Red Dot Awards.
In November, Cognixion announced they had received $12 million in seed funding to “develop AI-powered neural interfaces that unlock speech and smart home controls for the hundreds of millions of people worldwide with communication and physical disabilities” (Cognixion). The funding that was raised will help Cognixion develop “new adaptive interfaces that make the Assistive Reality technology easier to use by everyone.”
CXN ONE IN THE FUTURE
Here at STEL, we are so excited to see what the future of Cognixion will do for those experiencing communication disabilities:
“From a human-to-human perspective, this device redefines what it means to communicate in real time. It uses speech generation to speak – not text, message, or otherwise indicate – with others, as humans have done since the very beginning of our species. Furthermore, the use of a brain-computer interface allows those with certain comorbidities to utilize the platform, even if previous communication aides have been incompatible. It’s also interesting to consider all of the opportunities that exist for devices like CXN ONE to leverage automations and digital assistants [like Alexa] to interact with the IoT-connected and “smart” devices around them, enabling the same access to convenience and tech tools most people take for granted.”Jared Naito, STEL’s Director of Engineering
With the excitement surrounding our work and collaboration with Cognixion on this project, we are truly delighted to see where this takes our partnership, and we look forward to more opportunities in creating more products like this in the future. CXN ONE was built on the basis of giving those who need it a voice of their own. We believe that with the advanced technology we have at our disposal today, it is possible to continue to build streamlined tools for communication, access, and interaction. In a world where accessibility and communication seems to be lacking for those experiencing speech disabilities, we want to be sure that everyone has an efficient and effective mode of communication available.