Innovation

New ‘Wearable Throat’ Allows Mute People To Speak

Have you watched Netflix 2018 science fiction film “Mute?” Starring Alexander Skarsgård and Paul Rudd, it tells the story of a mute bartender who explored future Berlin to find his missing partner.

Mute is about a man who showed the underworld that actions speak louder than words. In the last part of the film, Leo, played by Skarsgård, received a special device that enabled him to speak instantly. 

That kind of technology may soon come to reality. Researchers from China developed a wearable artificial throat that mute people can use without an invasive surgery. 

The project, reported in the journal ACS Nano, shows that the device was able to transform throat movements into sounds. It works by simply attaching the wearable tech to the neck just like a temporary tattoo. 

People can speak because of motions of the mouth and vibrations made by vocal cords within the throat. Damaging the vocal cords could lead to speech problems and in most cases losing the ability to speak. 

To create the wearable throat, researchers used detectors that can measure the movements on human skin. The device can detect even the pulse and heartbeat and convert such motions into sounds. 

A prototype of the throat required the researcher to tape the device to the skin of the user. However, the participants reported that they were not comfortable to use the attached tape for long periods of time. 

The researchers then enhanced the artificial throat using a thinner, skin-like material. The device appeared like a temporary tattoo measuring 0.6 by 1.2 inches, just about two times bigger than a person's thumbnail. 

The new device was also made flexible to make it more comfortable for users. It was also easier to attach than the prototype. 

Researchers only used water to attach the film to the skin. The device was then connected to electrodes and then to a small armband with a power amplifier and decoder.

During tests, the users noiselessly imitated the throat motions of speech. Researchers said they were able to convert movements into sounds, like "OK" and "No." 

The team hopes to introduce the wearable throat to mute people in the future and train them to use throat movements to speak. 

WAGT A wearable artificial graphene throat, abbreviated here as 'WAGT,' can transform human throat movements into different sounds with training of the wearer. ACS Nano 2019

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