Engineering 101

An Artificial Throat Could One Day Help Mute People Speak


We talk and talk and talk each day, not realizing the complexity that goes into such an action. Speaking involves both mouth movement and vibration of the folded tissues referred to as the vocal cords.

If the vocal cords sustain injuries or other lesions, a person can lose the ability to speak. Now, there could be a future solution to this problem. As reported in ACS Nano, researchers have developed a wearable artificial throat that, when attached to the neck like a temporary tattoo, can transform throat movements into sounds.

How? By using detectors that measure movements on human skin like a pulse or a heartbeat.

However, these devices typically can’t convert these motions into sounds. Researchers He Tian, Yi Yang, Tian-Ling Ren and colleagues developed a prototype artificial throat with both capabilities, but because the device needed to be taped to the skin, it wasn’t comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. So the researchers aimed to develop a thinner, skin-like artificial throat that would adhere to the neck like a temporary tattoo.

A wearable artificial graphene throat, abbreviated here as ‘WAGT,’ can transform human throat movements into different sounds with training of the wearer. (Image Credit: Adapted from ACS Nano 2019, 10.1021/acsnano.9b03218)

To make their artificial throat, they laser-scribed graphene on a thin sheet of polyvinyl alcohol film. The flexible device measured 0.6 by 1.2 inches, about double the size of a person’s thumbnail. The researchers used water to attach the film to the skin over a volunteer’s throat and connected it with electrodes to a small armband that contained a circuit board, microcomputer, power amplifier, and decoder.

When the volunteer noiselessly imitated the throat motions of speech, the instrument converted these movements into emitted sounds, such as the words “OK” and “No.” The researchers say that, in the future, mute people could be trained to generate signals with their throats that the device would translate into speech.

Source: American Chemical Society

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