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 The population in need has been given devices that are often outdated, immobile, and at times lacking in accessibility.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.

Since our founding, STEL has focused on collaborating with companies that push for social impact, sustainability, and ethical practices in order to better our society. When we learned about Cognixion’s drive to create accessibility for all, there was no debate on whether or not STEL wanted to collaborate with them.

Pete Ducato, CEO of STEL


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.

Still of STEL x Cognixion Collaboration from Red Dot Luminary Video


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.” 


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.

STEL’s Design team for CXN ONE

At STEL, client relationships aren’t just contracts on a timeline, they are full team integrations. Our partnership with Nomad, a local Santa Barbara business and our very first client, is no exception. As two young, hungry startups, STEL and Nomad have developed a relationship built on innovation, creating products designed to make an impact on the everyday explorer’s life. 

When we started working together in 2015, we had plenty in common. They were dedicated to creating beautiful and rugged tools for the everyday adventurer. And we were dedicated to bringing big ideas to life. We were two companies on the same mission.


Our Beginnings

Nomad launched in 2012 with a single Kickstarter campaign. As a small company, they had plenty of big ideas and, more importantly, they had big ideas that could improve people’s lives. Products like the ChargeCard, Charge Key, and others enable people to elevate the efficiency of their everyday routine, building convenience and simplicity into their rhythms. 

These products are the perfect combination of innovation and accessibility, helping people make the most of technology to create even more flexibility and freedom. But, as most innovators know, good ideas are just the beginning. Nomad looked to expand their product line and capabilities, which meant increased production and engineering. They needed seasoned product designers and engineers who could not only build equally sturdy and stunning products but build them in a way that was actually manufacturable; a firm that could fully develop their concepts to bring them to life.

In the world of product design, there are hundreds of firms that can simply make a product. The team at Nomad, however, was looking for someone who could take it a step further; someone who could work with them to design their concept, prototype it, improve it, and produce it. Beyond that, they wanted a partner who understood their values as a company, could mass produce their products efficiently, and hold to industry-leading quality standards.


More than a Partnership

At STEL, we value freedom over formality and bringing incredible concepts to life. When Nomad came to us with their design, engineering, and production needs, we saw more than just a project proposal; this was the beginning of a long-standing partnership. Collaborating with Nomad meant an exciting design freedom to bring their ideas off a sketchbook and into our hands. Soon after their launch, STEL took over the development and engineering of Nomad’s products, using our supply chain and factory resources to bring life to their life-improving products.

As a team of designers, engineers, strategists, and leaders, working with Nomad felt like second nature: we all shared the same drive to create an impactful product portfolio. Our teams integrated quickly and seamlessly, and each started to grow in parallel. Because we’d developed such a strong relationship, STEL had Nomad’s trust and confidence to own the entire process from concept sketches to production in order to meet both party’s high standards. From the beginning, this partnership meant we could use our flexibility to quickly iterate new designs for new products. We could use our extensive resources as an independent design firm to help them expand their product line more quickly and efficiently than their internal team ever could. Between STEL’s design and development, and Nomad’s sale and marketing, it’s been a powerful partnership ever since.

Our creative process in developing Nomad’s product portfolio was directly influenced by their founding values: resourcefulness, adventure, and living life in the moment. Maybe it’s something about Santa Barbara, but there were no egos at this table, just two teams wanting to exceed every expectation the industry had for each of Nomad’s new products. Each meeting was an explorative investigation, a way for both teams to find out what works for both the products and their development. Every client is different, and we built our processes specifically to meet their needs in a way that aligned with both team’s sets of core values.


The Power of Collaboration

Product design firms exist to create solutions to complex problems, to fill holes in clients’ teams and processes. We pride ourselves in serving this function for Nomad, but it’s not what makes our collaboration style unique. We’re a team of dreamers, creatives, collaborators, and professionals who live to share capabilities and possibilities with our clients, and that was the driving factor in our success with Nomad. We provide a full turnkey solution injected with passion for our clients, creating processes and products they can rely on and fall in love with.

Since we began our first project with Nomad’s ChargeCard, our teams and processes have grown even closer together. With every cutting edge idea and new challenge posed, STEL has expanded our service offering to make them possible. Nomad has expanded from just one product to more than 30, ranging from state-of-the-art wireless charging stations to innovative technology accessories and medical supplies. As Nomad grows, so does STEL, and vice versa. This kind of partnership has enabled both of us to challenge each other, test our limits, and rise to the occasion so we can collaborate in a powerful way and create amazing products. 

We bring on clients because we love what we do, and love what they do. We love to solve problems and build on big ideas—and our relationship with Nomad is a reflection of exactly that. Check out our most recent work with Nomad HERE to see what we’ve been up to.