External voice box prototype helps cancer, stroke sufferers regain speech

Brian Heater
B. Heater|04.20.11

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A team of UK scientists has developed a headset that can bring voices back to those who have lost their speech due to injury, cancer, stroke, and other maladies. They hope the prototype -- which uses magnets positioned in the user's mouth or tongue -- will take the place of low-tech solutions like throat valves, which have the tendency to get clogged. When he or she speaks, changes to the magnets' movements are detected by the device, which associates specific facial movements with corresponding words (the device currently has a vocabulary of about 50). The whole thing is still pretty clunky, as evidenced by the image at right, but the researchers are working on cramming the technology into a device roughly the size of a Bluetooth headset. They're also working on a way to implant magnets into the tongue of the wearer -- positioning the magnets in the wearer's mouth is proving to be one of the largest difficulties in implementing the technology.
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