‘Stick-on’ artificial throat converts motion into speech.

Speech is a complex process involving both motions of the mouth and vibrations of folded tissues, called vocal cords, within the throat. However, if the vocal cords sustain injuries or other lesions, a person can lose the ability to speak.

A wearable artificial throat

Now, a study from researchers at Tsinghua University develops a wearable artificial throat that works by attaching to the neck like a temporary tattoo, transforming throat movements into sounds. The team states combining ultrasensitive motion detectors with thermal sound-emitting technology they have manufactured a non-invasive artificial throat holding the potential to enable speech in people with damaged or nonfunctioning vocal cords. The study is published in the journal ACS Nano.

Previous studies show wearables have been developed capable of measuring movements on human skin, such as a pulse or heartbeat. However, the devices typically can’t convert these motions into sounds. Recent studies from the lab developed a prototype artificial throat with both capabilities, however, because the device needed to be taped to the skin, it wasn’t comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. The current study develops a thinner, skin-like artificial throat that adheres to the neck like a temporary tattoo.

A tattoo that enables speech

The current study laser-scribes graphene onto a thin sheet of polyvinyl alcohol film to make the artificial throat. The flexible device is about double the size of a person’s thumbnail. Water is used to attach the film to the skin over a volunteer’s throat, the film is then connected via electrodes to a small armband containing a circuit board, microcomputer, power amplifier, and decoder. Results show the wearable skinlike ultrasensitive artificial graphene throat, dubbed WAGT, integrates both sound/motion detection and sound emission in a single device.

Converting motion into speech

Data findings show when participants noiselessly imitated the throat motions of speech, the WAGT converted these movements into emitted sounds, such as the words ‘OK’ and ‘No’. The team state they demonstrate the implementation of these sound/motion detection acoustic systems enable graphene to achieve device-level applications to system-level applications and those graphene acoustic systems are wearable for its miniaturization and lightweight.

The team surmises they have developed wearable skinlike artificial throat converting motion into speech. For the future, the researchers state people who have lost their speech could be trained to generate signals with their throats, the device can then translate into speech.

Source: American Chemical Society

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