A neckband that translates thought into speech by picking up nerve signals has been
used to demonstrate a "voiceless" phone call for the first time.
With careful training a person can send nerve signals to their vocal cords without
making a sound. These signals are picked up by the neckband and relayed wirelessly to a
computer that converts them into words spoken by a computerised voice.
A video (right) shows the system being used to place the first public voiceless phone
call on stage at a recent conference held by microchip manufacturer Texas Instruments. Michael
Callahan, co-founder of Ambient Corporation,
which developed the neckband, demonstrates the device, called the Audeo.
Users needn't worry about that the system voicing their inner thoughts though. Callahan
says producing signals for the Audeo to decipher requires "a level above
thinking". Users must think specifically about voicing words for them to be picked up
by the equipment.
The Audeo has previously been used to let people control wheelchairs using their
a video demonstrating thought control of wheelchairs
"I can still talk verbally at the same time," Callahan told New Scientist.
"We can differentiate between when you want to talk silently, and when you want to
talk out loud." That could be useful in certain situations, he says, for example when
making a private call while out in public.
The system demonstrated at the TI conference can recognise only a limited set of about
150 words and phrases, says Callahan, who likens this to the early days of speech
At the end of the year Ambient plans to release an improved version, without a
vocabulary limit. Instead of recognising whole words or phrases, it should identify the
individual phonemes that
make up complete words.
This version will be slower, because users will need to build up what they want to say
one phoneme at a time, but it will let them say whatever they want. The phoneme-based
system will be aimed at people who have lost the ability to speak due to neurological
diseases like ALS also known as motor neurone disease.
The world's first "voiceless" phone call took place
thanks to a neckband that converts nerve impulses into speech (footage courtesy Texas