Speechless phone technology given public showing

The chief of a US university spinout made the first public phone call that allowed him to speak to someone else without opening his mouth at the Texas Instruments Developers Conference in Dallas on Tuesday (26 February)

The phone system is based on neurological monitoring developed at Ambient, a spin-off from the University of Illinois and is intended to help people who have lost the ability to speak. It uses signal processing to interpret signals from the brain to the vocal chords: a sensor worn around the neck relays the signals to a processor that tries to convert them into word. The other caller hears a digitally generated voice.

At the conference, Michael Callahan, CEO of Ambient, held a short conversation with Mike Hames, TI's senior vice president of application-specific products  TI makes the MSP430 processor used in Ambient's prototype.

Callahan said the current prototype has a limited vocabulary but Ambient will launch commercially with a version based on the recognition of about 40 syllables that will allow it to relay a much wider range of phrases. A syllable-based system should also respond in conversations almost instantaneously; the vocabulary-based one suffers from latency.

A second demonstration at the conference involved a portable stethoscope that shows audio signals from the human heart on an integrated display, rather than forcing the doctor to listen to the beats through a traditional trumpet. PC-based systems have been tried before, but doctors found these inconvenient to use: the developer believes the portable system, based on a low-power digital signal processor, will be more acceptable to them.

The ViScope's display allows doctors to see low frequency components in heart readings that can take years of auditory training to detect using traditional stethoscopes.

Damon Coffman, CTO of developer HD Medical Group, said the first generation of the device will provide waveform diagrams that doctors will analyse, as this speeds approval from medical regulators. Future generations could make diagnoses.

Image: Ambient's Michael Callahan talks about the technology at TI Devcon

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