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Speechless Conversations

A new device translates your thoughts into speech so that you can have a cell-phone conversation without uttering a word.

Ambient Corporation, a company based in Champaign, IL, that develops communications technologies for people with speaking disabilities, is calling its latest system “voiceless communication” with good reason. The company has engineered a neckband that translates a wearer’s thoughts into speech so that, without saying a word, he or she can have a cell-phone conversation or query search engines in public.

Don’t fret: the device, called Audeo, can’t read minds, so it won’t capture your secret thoughts. It picks up the neurological signals from the brain that are being sent to the vocal cords–a person must specifically think about voicing words–and then wirelessly transmits them to a computer, which translates them into synthesized speech. At the moment, the device has a limited vocabulary: 150 words and phrases.

The video below shows Michael Callahan, a cofounder of Ambient and a developer of the device, demonstrating the technology at the Texas Instruments Developers Conference, which was held in Dallas from March 3 through 5. In his speech, he says that by the end of the year, the device will be ready for use by people with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that can cause sufferers to become completely paralyzed. He also says that in the future, if a person is walking down the street thinking about where a bus station is located, the device will automatically wirelessly query a search engine to find one.

Credit: Texas Instruments

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