Teen From India Turns Breath Into Speech

Screenshot from YouTube

A 16-year-old from India is a finalist in Google's Science Fair for TALK, his invention that converts breath into speech. Arsh Shah Dilbagi hopes his device will, with unprecedented ease, give a voice to the millions around the world who are unable to speak.

TALK uses Morse code. A MEMS microphone, which has a diaphragm etched onto a silicon microchip, is placed under a person's nose or mouth. The microphone picks up a series of short and long breaths and converts them into electrical signals. A microprocessor, which Dilbagi calls the "Morse engine," labels the short exhales as "dots" and the long exhales as "dashes," translates the Morse code into words and sends the words to another microprocessor, which gives the words a voice. He says TALK has nine voice options that vary by gender and age.

Dilbagi claims to have built the world's cheapest, fastest and most usable augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device, which is what Stephen Hawking uses to communicate, for example. But unlike Hawking's device, TALK is cheap. While some devices can cost several thousand dollars, TALK costs just $80.

Dilbagi hopes the price tag will make his device accessible to the masses. He also says that its faster speaking rate, its portability and the fact it can be used by most people (some AACs require hand movement, for instance) make TALK a better option than other AACs on the market.

In his proposal to Google, he said, "I even got predicted results by testing the device on a person suffering from encephalopathy (global brain dysfunction) and Parkinson's disease." Dilbagi hopes he can add auto-predictions to TALK's computing engine and integrate it into modem technology, like Google Glass.

In the video above, Dilbagi notes that approximately 1.4 percent of the world population suffers from developmental disabilities. He also says they experience a lower life expectancy, partly due to their inability to communicate with speech.

Dilbagi is the only finalist from Asia in Google's Science Fair, which is open to 13- to 18-year-olds. Other finalists' submissions include a robot inspired by a fruit fly and a mathematical model using imaging techniques to predict how a patient will respond to treatment for triple negative breast cancer. The winner of the competition will be announced September 22.