It will read your lips

March 9th, 2010

Do you get irritated by loud-mouthed blokes shouting into their mobile phones on train/bus/metro or worse, chatting on mobile phones during movies? I do. And German researchers saw my discomfort (perhaps of a few others too) and have come up with a new concept for mobile phones that is being called ‘noiseless communications’.

What’s that? A new technology, unveiled at the recently concluded CeBIT fair in Germany, highlighted how lip movements can be transformed into a computer-generated voice for the listener at the other end of the phone. The device, developed by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), uses electromyography, monitoring tiny muscular movements that occur when we speak and converting them into electrical pulses that can then be turned into speech, without a sound uttered. Already engineers have devices working to 99 per cent efficiency with this technology — so the mechanical voice at the other end of the phone gets just one word in 100 wrong.

Simply put, your mobile phone will read your lips. WOW! The implications of this concept can be huge. It could be a great tool for those with speech disorders.

Or, you can have a fight with your spouse/partner while you travel in public transport or perhaps a carpool like me. If you are feeling mushy, then you can mouth saccharine-dipped words without being audible to people around you.

Although we would make an awkward (or comical) sight — people mouthing words into their handset receivers.

You can discuss your future employment prospective with a recruiter or potential employer, right in your office without having to rush to the nearest empty corridor. You can even discuss your boss’s salary details without needing those coded messages on Twitter or Facebook.

Better still, in public places like night clubs and bars, one can feasibly use a mobile device to talk without having to shout into the receiver.

The technology uses nine electrodes that are stuck to a user’s face. These measure the electrical signals, which are then recorded and amplified before being transmitted via Bluetooth to a PC. Software on the computer decodes the signals into text, which could be spoken using a text-to-voice program. This can be easily integrated into a handset, claimed the researchers.

The technology, add researchers at KIT, can turn anyone into a polyglot. Since the electrical pulses are universal, they can be immediately transformed into the language of the user’s choice. So, speakers can silently utter a sentence in their language, and the receivers can hear the translated sentence in their language.

Since the German research institute has just presented the concept at CeBIT, so in all probability we won’t see this technology in a handset any time soon. But that just gives you and me plenty of time to come up with even more ingenious uses of ‘silent’ calling, should it ever hit the mainstream.

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