Breath to Speech

Did you read about the teenager who created sensor-socks for his grandfather who has dementia? Here is another inspiring story about a 16-year-old living on the opposite side of the world who has created an “augmentative and alternative communication” (AAC) device that will allow individuals with chronic conditions such as paralysis to communicate. Arsh Dilbagi’s project is another one of the Global Finalists in the Google Science Fair 2014 competition, in which the winners will be announced next week.

This young man from India has developed a device that can detect differences in breath patterns using a tiny MEMS microphone. These patterns can be distinguished as “dots” and “dashes” for Morse code. He then created a processor built around an Arduino chip to convert the impulses into text, and then to synthesized speech. He used a 3D printer to create a lightweight enclosure with a speaker. The end result is a device that can be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of AAC devices currently available: $100 or less. He then tested his system on a patient with brain damage and Parkinson’s, and determined that the device could distinguish between two different breath patterns. Further tests with healthy subjects showed 100% accuracy rates in detection of the exhaled signals, and it took about a second and a half on average to signal an individual letter.

This is an impressive project that has the potential to help patients with chronic conditions and disabilities to communicate more effectively and efficiently with their caregivers and others. The potential for improving their quality of life and life expectancy is significant.