Sixteen-year-old Arsh Shah Dilbagi has developed a new technology called ‘TALK’, which is a cheap and portable device to help people who are physically incapable of speaking express themselves. Right now, 1.4 percent of the world’s population has very limited or no speech, due to conditions such as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), locked-in syndrome (LIS), Encephalopathy (SEM), Parkinson’s disease, and paralysis. So that’s literally a group of people that could match the entire population of Germany, and all of them unable to speak.
Stephen Hawking has a device to help him communicate, but it’s extremely expensive, costing several thousand dollars, and is also quite bulky. What Dilbagi has managed to do is invent a device that achieves the same thing, but can be purchased for just $80.
The way TALK works is that it’s able to translate the user’s breath into electric signals using a special device called a MEMS Microphone. This technology is composed of a pressure-sensitive diaphragm etched directly into a silicon chip, and an amplifying device to increase the sound of the user’s breath.
By expelling two types of breaths into the device, with different intensities and timing, the user is able to spell out words in Morse code. “A microprocessor then interprets the breathes into dots and dashes, converting them into words. The words are then sent to a second microprocessor that synthesises them into voice,” says Whitney Mallett at Motherboard. “The morse code can either be translated into English, or specific commands and phrases. The device features nine different voices varying in age and gender.”