Science & Research

This vocal cord vibration switch, known as the Hummingbird is an access technology that converts vocal cord vibrations into binary control signals for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), environmental control, and computer access. It is well suited for individuals who have severe physical disabilities and are unable to form words but can still produce vocalizations. The versatile Hummingbird easily adapts to many environments. Unlike regular voice-based switches, it works well in loud environments such as classrooms as it is not sensitive to surrounding noise and only responds to the user’s vocalizations. Additionally, since the Hummingbird detects a full range of periodic vocal cord vibrations from soft to loud, it requires less effort than a microphone-based switch.

How it Works

A sensor containing a dual-axis accelerometer is held on the user’s throat by a wearable neckband. The sensor is connected to the Hummingbird power pack which detects periodic vibrations associated with vocalizations. The Hummingbird also filters out sounds caused by bodily functions, like coughing and swallowing, as well as extraneous head movement. When a vocalization is detected, the Hummingbird power pack translates it into a usable output signal that can be connected to a USB, Bluetooth, or Switch-enabled user interface, such as an AAC device or a computer. Individuals can then control a variety of activities—such as turning on music, playing a game, or typing messages on a keyboard — opening up a world of choice and communication.

About The Science & Research Team

The Science and Research team behind the Hummingbird is the PRISM Lab (Paediatric Rehabilitation Intelligent Systems Multidisciplinary) at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

PRISM Lab is lead by Tom Chau, PhD, PEng. Dr. Chau is the Vice President of Research and Director, Bloorview Research Institute, Raymond Chang Foundation Chair in Access Innovations. Visit the PRISM Lab

Dr. Chau and his PRISM Lab have focused on access innovations in recent years. Access innovations include the discovery, design, and evaluation of novel pathways by which children and youth can communicate or interact with their environment in the absence of functional speech and gestures.


We are currently working with industry partners to create a consumer-ready version of the Hummingbird to help promote its uptake and adoption for users across Canada and the globe. While the Hummingbird is a mature and validated technology, several refinements are required to improve the design of the existing prototype. Such refinements include:

  • Adding fully wireless capabilities
  • Miniaturization of the device
  • Developing training and instructional materials

We will be working closely with industry partners, clinicians, educators, and families to ensure these refinements optimize the Hummingbird’s durability and accessibility to provide a user-friendly experience.

About Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (Holland Bloorview) is Canada’s largest children’s rehabilitation hospital focused on improving the lives of kids with disabilities. We are a global leader in applied research, teaching and learning, and client and family centred care. Our vision is to create a world of possibility for kids with disability.

We are dedicated to knowledge generation and sharing innovative treatments, therapies, and technologies that give children with disabilities the tools to participate fully in life. Located onsite, the Bloorview Research Institute conducts transformational research in pediatric rehabilitation.

Holland Bloorview is an internationally recognized teaching hospital fully affiliated with the University of Toronto. Our Teaching and Learning Institute embraces best practice models to train and develop the next generation of experts in childhood disability.

We are a provincial resource transforming care for children with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury including concussion, muscular dystrophy, amputation, epilepsy, spina bifida, arthritis, cleft-lip and palate, autism and other physical and developmental disabilities.

Learn more about Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital


Advanced communication and interaction device

A simple yet powerful device, Hummingbird is on its way to do great things.