Wearable Vibrotactile Speech Aid
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Reference #: 2017-043
OTC Contact: Zeinab Abouissa, Phone: 202-687-2702, Email: email@example.com
Humans process speech through auditory signals. However, either due to noisy environments or pathology (hearing loss and aging), these auditory signals can be degraded, leading to impaired ability to understand the spoken word. Humans can also communicate by converting auditory signals into haptic signals and can learn to recognize speech through vibrotactile sensations. Still, impractically long training times and mixed outcomes have been a stumbling block for device development in this field.
Researchers at Georgetown University’s Department of Neuroscience developed a novel technology and approach to tackle this problem. This technology is a vibrotactile speech aid that aids hearing-impaired individuals as well as the hearing of normal individuals in noisy conditions such cockpits or construction sites. It does so by converting the auditory signal into vibratory patterns that are designed to optimally interface with the brain’s auditory speech representations. The device reads an incoming auditory speech signal, extracts the salient speech information (either from one or multiple channels) and presents them in a way that is designed to “piggy-back” onto the brain’s auditory speech system. This makes use of the researchers’ experimental results that have shown how the vibrotactile system can efficiently connect to the auditory speech system, provided the vibrotactile signal is formatted in a way that optimally interfaces with the brain’s speech system (Damera et al., 2021), see Figure 1.
The approach further includes a novel auditory-to-vibrotactile conversion algorithm that leverages their years of research into optimally coupling neural processing pathways as well as neuroscience-inspired training protocols. By leveraging novel insights into the mechanisms of speech learning and the coupling of vibrotactile and auditory speech processing pathways in the brain, training time can be dramatically decreased and the efficacy of haptic speech devices can be significantly achieved.
Most vibrotactile speech devices to date have focused on sensory substitution – communicating speech via vibration in the absence of auditory input. In addition, non-intuitive auditory/haptic correspondences and long training times have been major obstacles to adoption. The advantage of the present invention lies in the deep understanding of the neuroscience underlying haptic and speech processing – fields in which the researchers’ group is a world leader. The researchers show that their understanding of how the brain processes sensory stimuli and achieves cross-modal coupling is of critical importance for success in applied neuroscience.
In conclusion, this technology focuses on the coupling of auditory and haptic speech processing and new neuroscience-based approaches to drastically decrease training times and increase usability of the technology. The outcome is a vibrotactile speech aid that can be learned in a fraction of the time of conventional approaches by effectively linking the brain’s haptic system with the speech system.
Max Riesenhuber, Ph.D.
Patrick Malone M.D., Ph.D.
U.S. Patent Application No. 16/643,824
European Patent Application No. 18850514.3