Have you ever been travelling to work, enjoying reading the morning paper, browsing on your smartphone through the mobile broadband coverage available, or perhaps just sitting quietly with your thoughts, only to be disturbed by someone speaking particularly loudly on their mobile phone? Those days could be at an end, as new technology displayed by researchers recently showed off the ability to speak silently. It could theoretically bring an end to the noisy phone call as we know it.
We often hear about how mobile devices are used for bigger and better things, such as the advances in smartphone technologies that allow us access to mobile broadband coverage wherever our foot might tread. Or perhaps the latest and greatest applications that can grant us access to the world of the web at our fingertips. But it’s rare that we hear of a technology that could revolutionise the way that we speak to other people using our telephones.
Whenever you speak, the muscles around your mouth produce very tiny electrical signals. These small pulses are produced whether you actually make an audible noise, or whether you just mime the words spoken. The new technology measures the pulses as they are generated, to work out what you are saying, without you needing to say it.
One of the developers of the technology, Professor Tanja Shultz, was inspired to create it after sitting on a train beside a person that was constantly chatting. He vowed from that moment to make a change and to develop what the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology are dubbing ‘silent communication’. To date, silent communication has only been accessible by connecting to aconnection and emailing your thoughts, a much slower process than the ability to silently speak them.
The technology used to convert the signals created in your muscles into words that could be understood by the person on the receiving end of your phone call is called electromyography. It is not a new technology, having been used for years within the medical industry to diagnose certain diseases, but this is the first time that it has been put to use in recognising speech.
Currently for the technology to work you must fasten nine electrodes in the correct locations on your face that are used to capture any and all electrical signals from your muscles. The pulses are captured, measured and then transmitted to a laptop via a Bluetooth connection. A specialist piece of software is used on the laptop which converts the pulses into standard words that can then be spoken aloud by a synthesiser program.
Strapping nine electrodes to your face in public might not seem like a very realistic solution to the loud conversation problem, but Professor Shultz is confident that the technology can be packaged within mobile devices to provide instant communication in the future, other than that obtained through typing into mobile internet connections.
Although adapting the technology for the use in mobile phones could be some way off, there are still many viable uses for the discovery such as in allowing those with disabilities to communicate, or even in a translator program that would instantly, using software, translate your language into another.