Paralysis sufferers communicate with breath signals

4th September 2015
Jordan Mulcare

A recent device, which is believed to be the worlds first of its kind, has been developed by academics from Loughborough University. The device transforms paralysis sufferers' breath into words, helping them to communicate. The tool analyses changes in the users breathing patterns and coverts the 'breath signals' into words. To do this the tool uses pattern recognition software and an ADC.  A speech synthesiser then reads the words aloud.

Known as the Augmentative and Alternate Communication (AAC) device, it is designed for patients with complete or partial loss of voluntary muscle control who don’t have the ability to make purposeful movements such as sniffing or blinking, gestures which previous AAC devices have come to rely upon.

Dr Kaddour Bouazza-Marouf, Reader in Mechatronics in Medicine, said the device learns from its user, building up its knowledge as it goes. It allows the user to control how he or she wishes to communicate, effectively enabling them to create their own language by varying the speed of their breathing.

“What we are proposing is a system that learns with the user to form an effective vocabulary that suits the person rather than the machine,” said Dr David Kerr, Senior Lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.

“When it comes to teaching our invention to recognise words and phrases, we have so far recorded a 97.5% success rate. Current AAC devices are slow and range from paper-based tools to expensive, sophisticated electronic devices. Our AAC device uses analogue signals in continuous form, which should give us a greater speed advantage because more information can be collected in a shorter space of time.”

Dr Atul Gaur, Consultant Anaesthetist, Glenfield Hospital, added: “This device could transform the way people with severe muscular weakness or other speech disorders communicate. In an intensive care setting, the technology has the potential to be used to make an early diagnosis of locked-in syndrome, by allowing patients, including those on ventilators, to communicate effectively for the first time by breathing, an almost effortless act which requires no speech, limb or facial movements.”

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