Today's featured Invention Awards winner is the Audeo, a voice synthesizer that gives back the ability to speak to those with vocal cord or neurological damage. Be sure to check out the rest of 2009's Invention Award winners here.
When Michael Callahan was 17, he lost his short-term memory when he hit his head in a skateboarding accident. "The neural pathways were all wrong," he recalls. Within weeks, he was back to normal, but the incident left him thinking, how could he help people who had permanently lost abilities that most of us take for granted? Five years later, he came up with the Audeo, a tiny device that detects electrical activity between the brain and vocal cords and turns it into audible speech.
When we speak, three basic things happen: the lungs deliver air, the vocal cords vibrate to create sound, and the mouth moves. The Audeo helps people for whom at least one of the three processes malfunctions due to ALS, traumatic brain injury or other problems — those whose brains and vocal cords are intact but whose impaired motor skills prevent them from moving their lungs and mouth.
Here's how it works: Three pill-size electrodes on the throat pick up electrical signals generated between the brain and the vocal cords. A processor in the device then filters and amplifies the signals and sends them to an adjacent PC, where software decodes them and turns them into words spoken through the PC's speakers. By placing the electrodes on the neck and "speaking" silently through vocal-cord movements (but without moving the mouth), the wearer generates enough neural activity to trigger this chain of events.
Callahan started working on the Audeo at the University of Illinois, studying everything he could about signal processing and neuroscience. It took him four years to determine how to filter out unwanted electrical noise from the environment and the body (like the heartbeat) and detect only the signals needed for speech synthesis. He met his business partner, fellow engineering student Tom Coleman, in 2005, and the two formed Ambient
Corporation later that year.
Callahan isn't the only one trying to perfect silent speech. NASA's Ames Research Center is working on a similar device to control rovers and help astronauts communicate even when there's significant distance or noise. That version, however, uses pattern recognition and can distinguish just preprogrammed words. The Audeo allows people to use all English-language phonemes (the roughly 40 sounds that make up words, like "aw" and "ch"), so there's no limit on what a user can say.
The technology does have room to improve. Right now, the Audeo can pick up a maximum of 30 words per minute, about one fifth the rate of normal speech. And learning the "language" of speaking in phonemes takes days of practice. Once mastered, though, the Audeo can do neat things like enable people to carry on phone conversations without making a sound. Ambient is also working on a cellphone interface, with the goal of scrapping the computer completely and reducing the price. "Eventually," Callahan says, "we want it to cost as little as a Bluetooth headset."
Invention: The Audeo
Inventor: Michael Callahan
Time: 5 years
Is It Ready Yet? 1 2 3 4 5
This is a fantastic Idea! Also, this device could be used for military purposes. No more hand signals? Just mouth the words without noise and have the message sent to a small speaker in your teams' ears. I am curious to see how this developes.
This is very cool and probably could be used 4 the military
Reach out and be Unashamed of the Gospel of Christ
It would be so radical if Stephen Hawking used this! Wonder what he thinks of it, or if he has even heard of it.
can anyone tell me the date (exact date) this audeo was discovered.? i need it for a project. thank you so much!!
Love the random nod to Hitchhikers Guide. I have a number of friends who could really use this.
i have never used my phone in a movie theater before but i might have to try it with one of these things. spouses that cheat should really love being able to carry on a conversation with their mistress while eating dinner at home. any kid with one of these should never fail a test in school again.
11apr12 There is already a system similar to this one that is top secret and already platformed to all VTOL UAV DRONES for eavesdropping..in the USA also. I participate in the development of this system ongoing and unwillingly in Nakhon Nayok, Thailand. The system can read silent spoken words from a targeted individual using ultrasound/infrasound as a means to hook up the target and amplify the phonemes that always precede the silently spoken word, present them to the software for translation to text word etc. The system has a vocabulary of 250,000 words, just like NUANCE's text to speech. More comprehensive. This is for the world as he world will now be listened to like never before. Silent ultrasound tcommunication is used to talk to the target..silently and subliminally..it gets real heavy
11apr12 I was told thAt the papented software was stolen from TEXAS INSTRUMENTS by a prominent TEXAN that suffers from too much RITALYN and is friends of the big money guy $$$$$$ and brought the software over to THAILAND and gave it to The Top Sponsor...isn't that cool for me to know this!!!!! i am going to bust ass with this patent problem until TEXAS INSTRUMENTS gets what they deserve...testing in Thailand and torturing my babies....this shit will be on all of OMAMA's VTOL UAV DRONES...This is the truth....pass the word.. good by constitutional rights in the USA and the world see: http://i936.photobucket.com/albums/ad206/asdfghjkl11/private%20confidential%20%20PSWD/eye.jpg