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A device that can convert breath to speech

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Sixteen-year-old Arsh Shah Dilbagi has developed a new technology called
‘TALK’, which is a cheap and portable device to help people who are physically
incapable of speaking express themselves. 

Right now, 1.4 percent of the world’s
population has very limited or no speech, due to conditions such as Amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis (ALS), locked-in syndrome (LIS), Encephalopathy
(SEM), Parkinson’s disease, and paralysis. So that’s literally a group of
people that could match the entire population of Germany, and all of them
unable to speak.

Stephen Hawking has a device to help him
communicate, but it’s extremely expensive, costing several thousand
dollars, and is also quite bulky. What Dilbagi has managed to do is
invent a device that achieves the same thing, but can be purchased for
just $80.

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The way TALK works is that it’s able to translate the user’s breath into electric signals using a special device called a MEMS Microphone.
This technology is composed of a pressure-sensitive diaphragm etched
directly into a silicon chip, and an amplifying device to increase the
sound of the user’s breath.

By expelling two types of breaths into the device, with
different intensities and timing, the user is able to spell out words in Morse
code. “A microprocessor then interprets the breathes into dots and dashes,
converting them into words. The words are then sent to a second microprocessor
that synthesises them into voice,” says Whitney Mallett at Motherboard. “The morse code
can either be translated into English, or specific commands and phrases. The
device features nine different voices varying in age and gender.”

People who do not have a means of
properly expressing themselves, like those living with speech disorders,
experience a lower than average life expectancy because of it.
Dilbagi’s aim for this device is to give millions of people like this a
‘voice’ for the first time.
“After testing the final design with myself and friends
and family, I was able to arrange a meeting with the Head of Neurology at Sir
Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi and tested TALK (under supervision of doctor and
in controlled environment) with a person suffering from SEM and
Parkinson’s Disease,” Dilbagi reports. “The person was able to give two
distinguishable signals using his breath and the device worked perfectly.”

TALK was developed by Dilbagi as part of Google’s Global Science Fair,
which is a competion that’s open to 13 to 18-year-olds from anywhere in
the world. Dilbagi is the only finalist left from Asia. Here he is
talking about his device:

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