Wednesday, March 03, 2010

KIT, lip-reading, and a multilingual mobile phone

From AFP 02/03/10

It has happened to almost everyone. You are sitting on a train or a bus and someone right next to you is annoyingly shouting into his or her mobile phone.

­Researchers at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a method for mobile phones to convert silent mouth movements into speech. The technology is based on the principle of electromyography, that is the acquisition and recording of electrical potentials generated by muscle activity. This muscle activity is measured in the face and converted into speech.

The user can speak into the phone soundlessly, but is still understood by the conversation partner on the other end of the line. As a result, it is possible to communicate in silent environments, at the cinema or theater, without disturbing others. Another field of use is the transmission of confidential information.

"We currently use electrodes which are glued to the skin. In the future, such electrodes might for example by incorporated into cellphones," said Michael Wand, from the KIT.

The technology opens up a host of applications, from helping people who have lost their voice due to illness or accident to telling a trusted friend your PIN number over the phone without anyone eavesdropping -- assuming no lip-readers are around.

The technology can also turn you into an instant polyglot. Because the electrical pulses are universal, they can be immediately transformed into the language of the user's choice.

"Native speakers can silently utter a sentence in their language, and the receivers hear the translated sentence in their language. It appears as if the native speaker produced speech in a foreign language," said Wand.

The translation technology works for languages like English, French and Gernan, but for languages like Chinese, where different tones can hold many different meanings, poses a problem, he added.

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