/ / Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom, News

A conceit in my novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is that our cellphones will disappear into our bodies, silently feeding us audio via cochlear implants and micing our throats to pick up sub-vocalizations (something I think I ripped off from Harry Harrison, though others have done it too). Now a DARPA program has produced a functional prototype of a subvocal pickup that can turn words you haven’t spoken into signals on the wire.

One system, being developed for DARPA by Rick Brown of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, relies on a sensor worn around the neck called a tuned electromagnetic resonator collar (TERC). Using sensing techniques developed for magnetic resonance imaging, the collar detects changes in capacitance caused by movement of the vocal cords, and is designed to allow speech to be heard above loud background noise.

DARPA is also pursuing an approach first developed at NASA’s Ames lab, which involves placing electrodes called electromyographic sensors on the neck, to detect changes in impedance during speech. A neural network processes the data and identifies the pattern of words. The sensor can even detect subvocal or silent speech. The speech pattern is sent to a computerised voice generator that recreates the speaker’s words.

(Thanks, John!)

One Response to “Subvocalization mic”

  1. Burke

    Couldn’t this be great for teaching the deaf to speak?

    I’m from Germany, and there was this woman on a well-known TV show, a 23 year old ballet student. She is fluid in four languages, plays piano. She’s deaf, of course.

    Now what amazed me wasn’t that she could speak or read lips, something she has managed to learn just like many other deaf people have. It was the tone, the melody of her voice that thrilled me. Deaf people _always_ seem to have these defects in pronunciation that a hearing person would never develop. Fricatives are heavy stuff. z and ss are hard.

    She had all of these, of course. You could tell that she was deaf or hard of hearing, from her pronunciation. No, apart from her eloquence it was her melody. How on earth does she know how to raise and lower her voice in such a way, that I get attracted to what she’s telling me?

    The device you are writing about could be very useful for language teaching. Much better than for shooting people in the dark, don’t you agree?


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