A team of researchers at China's Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University have developed a graphene-based intelligent, wearable artificial throat (AT) that is sensitive to human speech and vocalization-related motions. It is a wafer-like tool one centimeter square that can allow barely audible sounds, or even whispers, to be converted into speech at normal volume.
The device is about the width of plastic cling wrap. The 25-micrometer deep device may be applied to one's throat with a simple adhesive. Tiny wires connect to a microcontroller powered by a coin-sized battery.
Research team leader, Tsinghua University's Professor Ren Tianling, stated that the artificial throat is capable of recognizing speech elements such as phonemes, tones and words at an accuracy rate of 99 percent. It relies on an artificial intelligence model to interpret captured sounds and bodily vibrations to generate vocalizations.
"Its feasible [voice] fabrication process, stable performance, resistance to noise and integrated vocalization make the AT a promising tool for next-generation speech recognition and interaction systems," Tianling said.
Current strategies to communicate with voice-disabled patients rely on microphones attached to the body, but that is a cumbersome user setup.
Tianling explained that graphene sensors are ideally suited for detection of tiny vibrations on skin surfaces. The device, he said, "can sense muscle motions and audio vibrations transmitted to the surface of the skin" and "convert recognizable mechanical information into speech."
The device also works without interference from noisy, hostile environments such as highways, fire disasters and airplane cockpits.
"The speaker's health status, such as neurological diseases, cancer, trauma, and the surrounding environment, noise interference, transmission medium, often affect the transmission and recognition of sound," Tianling said. This device, he said, overcomes those obstacles.
Tianling says further research is needed to bring more expressiveness to vocalizations achieved by the artificial throat. But he said he believes the simplicity and effectiveness of the device may make it commonplace in the future.
"Our intelligent AT provides a new paradigm for speech recognition, and is expected to pave the way for applications of mechanical sensors to intelligent home health-monitoring systems, wearable electronics and even cryptographic security," he said.
In March 2017, researchers at Tsinghua University designed an intelligent artificial throat device using laser-induced graphene that can generate and detect sound.