Xavier students test app using phones and voices

Xavier University, a national model for keeping college a face-to-face experience, now is recruiting students to become pioneers in the pandemic’s technology revolution with their phones and their voices.

Once a day, 125 students will use a smartphone app that will listen to each one make the sound “aah” as in “father” for six seconds in a quiet room. The app creator, Sonde Health of Boston, promises the tool can read that sample and predict with 70% certainty whether someone is at higher risk of experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness.

Xavier University has drawn national attention for its efforts to keep education face to face while controlling the spread of the new coronavirus. That reputation attracted a Boston software company to partner with the university to test an app that reads voice samples for changes that could signal respiratory issues including COVID-19.

The app, Sonde Health, has not been federally approved as a medical device, and its makers caution not to use the app in diagnosis. But other research has shown that a person’s voice can signal changes in health. The leader of the Xavier study said if the app performs as promised in detecting a respiratory risk from COVID-19, it can turn every smartphone into an early warning system.

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