How wonderful would it be if new technology could help the physically challenged? A smart wearable device that enables people with speaking disabilities to communicate normally is giving hope to those without a voice.
Tao Luqi, a research fellow at Chongqing University, used a material called graphene to produce an artificial throat with a tiny sensor that allows people with speech impairments to speak normally, according to a paper published in Nature Communications in 2017. Tao has continued his work on the device for the last four years.
Although it’s a tiny mechanical sensor, it can work wonders. The device can detect weak vibrations and can produce sounds across a wide spectrum, from 100Hz to 40kHz, China Daily reported. Humans can detect sounds in a frequency range from about 20Hz to 20kHz.
“Although the speaking impaired people can’t speak, their throats can vibrate,” Tao told The Paper. “If I put a device made of graphene into the throat of a person, it can detect the vibrations and make sounds using electrical signals.”
Even whispers, screams and coughs at different frequencies can be recorded and encoded by the device, and it can arrange them into groups. When the device detects the sounds in a particular group, it will reproduce the words, phrases or sentences, according to Tao.
“But the speaking impaired people need to classify their own language sounds in groups and memorize them, just like typing keys on a keyboard,” Tao said.
Tao’s artificial throat has brought the possibilities of graphene to reality. It’s been 17 years since the discovery of graphene, and the world has been waiting for the “wonder material” to provide groundbreaking innovations. At only the width of an atom, graphene is the thinnest material known to humans – and also the strongest. The material is also an efficient conductor of heat and electricity, and is ultra-lightweight, China Daily reported.
“Graphene really does have fantastic properties and its potential is huge,” said Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, a director at UK-based research consultancy IDTechEx.
China has emerged as a key country for graphene production. Around 3,000 Chinese companies are exploring uses for graphene, according to government statistics in 2018, while half of the world’s graphene-related patents have been filed in China, according to China Daily.
“It’s a brand-new science, and China is trying to take the lead,” said Neill Ricketts, chief executive at Versarien, a UK-based advanced material company.