16-year-old Maker creates device that converts breath to speech

A high school student from India Arsh Shah Dilbagi has devised a product that enables individuals with disabling diseases to communicate via breath, for a cost a hundred times less than similar products on the market.


Dilbagi’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) prototype, entitled “TALK,” was created using a pair of Atmel powered Arduinos. The first Arduino converts a user’s breath into Morse code with the help of a MEMS Microphone. The MEMS Microphone uses incredibly sensitive diaphragms to sense event he slightest breathe. “TALK expects a person to be able to give two distinguishable exhales (by varying intensity/time) for converting into electrical signals,” Dilbagi writes.

The second Atmel based microprocessor translates the code generated by the MEMS into a computer-generated voice. The Maker elaborates on the voice functionality by stating, “TALK features two modes — one to communicate in English and another to give specific commands/phrases, and 9 different voices.”

Dilbagi, who prefers to go by the nickname Robo, notes that 1.4% of the population suffers from some sort of malady that inhibits their ability to speak. His affordable design could allow for millions of individuals across the planet to communicate in a way they had never been able to before.

Of course, assistive communication devices like the Intel-based one used by Stephen Hawking are considerably more advanced. The software keyboard Dilbagi uses can predict words so he only has to enter a few characters — entered by stopping a moving cursor at the right moment — before the program can complete the word or phrase.

TALK has already seen some success in the field, as Robo notes he “was able to arrange a meeting with the Head of Neurology at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi and tested Talk (under supervision of doctor and in controlled environment) with a person suffering from SEM and Parkinson’s Disease.” Dilbagi was excited to learn a patient was, “able to give two distinguishable signals using his breath and the device worked perfectly.”

Now, this is what we call ‘making’ a difference! Using the powers of today’s Maker Movement, the 16 year-old student developed a device that accomplishes the same basic tasks as a $7,000-10,000 computer for on $80 — all while enhancing the lives of others along the way. From 3D-printed prosthetics to brain-controlled devices, Dilbagi joins a number of other Makers who have turned to AVR powered technology to help others overcome disabilities.

Dilbagi’s incredibly innovative project was part of Google Global Science Fair, where he was the only finalist from Asia in this year’s competition. To read the entire TALK project breakdown, head over to Robo’s design write-up.


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