A system that turns breath into words could provide a communication link for paralysed patients

Breath-speaker gives a voice to paralysis sufferers

A device that turns breath into words has been developed by Loughborough University researcher, hoping to restore the ability to speak back to paralysed patients.

Believed to be the first invention of its kind, the device detects changes in breathing patterns and converts those breath signals into words using pattern recognition software. The words are then read out loud by a speech synthesiser.

The technology has life-changing potential for completely paralysed patients who have lost all ability to control their muscles and can’t make use of any other form of communication, such as blinking or facial movements.

“This device could transform the way people with severe muscular weakness or other speech disorders communicate,” said Atul Gaur, consultant anaesthetist at Glenfield Hospital, who participated in the project.

“In an intensive care setting, the technology has the potential to be used to make an early diagnosis of locked-in syndrome (LIS), by allowing patients, including those on ventilators, to communicate effectively for the first time by breathing – an almost effortless act which requires no speech, limb or facial movements.”

The technology is smart, meaning it learns from the user and makes the use simpler and more accurate the longer it’s being used.

“What we are proposing is a system that learns with the user to form an effective vocabulary that suits the person rather than the machine,” said David Kerr, senior lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Loughborough University.

“When it comes to teaching our invention to recognise words and phrases, we have so far recorded a 97.5 per cent success rate. Current Augmentative and Alternate Communication devices are slow and range from paper-based tools to expensive, sophisticated electronic devices. Our AAC device uses analogue signals in continuous form, which should give us a greater speed advantage because more information can be collected in a shorter space of time.”

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