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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded an $850,000 Fast-Track Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to Fluential, Inc. to develop and evaluate an advanced two-way speech translation system to enable hospital nurses to communicate with their Spanish- and Cantonese-speaking patients. Fluential will create the speech translation system using S-MINDS, a technology platform that the company has developed for the US military. The system will provide hospital nurses with immediate access to accurate, convenient, and easy-to-use medical interpretation for their most common patient interactions. The system will be developed in collaboration with a major San Francisco-based medical center. "Our goal is to develop a system that will increase safety and the quality of care for hospital patients who cannot speak English," said Farzad Ehsani, Fluential's CEO. "This system will not completely eliminate the need for trained medical interpreters. However, it should handle 80% to 90% of a nurse's routine communication needs and greatly increase his or her ability to communicate with patients when an interpreter is not available."


The NIH awards SBIR grants to small companies with fewer than 500 employees to engage in federal research that has the potential to solve important problems for society and shows strong promise for commercialization. Fast-Track grants are reserved for projects that show the most potential for commercial success and are awarded in two phases. In Phase 1, which will be completed by June 2007, Fluential's system will enable nurses to complete common tasks with their Spanish-speaking patients, including checking patients' vital signs, assessing pain, and conducting a respiratory assessment. Phase 2 will be completed by the end of 2008 and will enable a comprehensive range of nurse-patient interactions in Spanish and Cantonese. The completed system will contain highly accurate speech recognition, language translation, and human-like speech synthesis engines and a robust library of common concepts that are used in nurse-patient interactions in all three languages. During the evaluation period, Fluential will continue to update the system with additional words, phrases, and sentences.


Established in 1998, Fluential Inc. is a provider of two-way speech-to-speech translation systems. Its flagship product, S-MINDS, enables communication between two people who each speak a different language. S-MINDS is ideally suited for well-defined interactions, such as treating physical therapy patients and communicating with patients in hospital settings. For further information, please visit