Read My Lips!

Read My Lips!

Yep…you read that right. Scottish scientists are hoping to be the first to develop a hearing aid that also reads lips. This project is being headed by professor Amir Hussain from the University of Stirlingshire. According to Professor Hussain, deafness affects huge numbers of people in the UK (and all over the world) either with a direct hearing loss or living/working with someone with hearing loss. In fact, research shows that around 10 million people in the UK suffer from hearing impairment. That number is more than double in the US. So, with that many people dealing with the tribulations of hearing impairment and loss, it’s no wonder that scientists are always working on better technology for hearing instruments. So far, all that technology has been geared towards better amplification, better sound analysis, better sound filtration, etc. Until now, no one has thought to add a lip-reading element to hearing instruments. It’s brilliant though. How many times have you been in a noisy situation where it really helps to follow a conversation when you actually watch the mouth of the person speaking? I can think of several as recently as yesterday at an outdoor Mother’s Day concert in the park.

Back to the new tech….a tiny camera would be used to identify the patterns of a the speaker’s lip movements and then cutting-edge software would translate the pattern into speech to be played back directly the ear of the hearing aid wearer. The camera could be anywhere that it would have a clear line of sight to the speaker’s mouth; in the earpiece, on a pair of glasses, or perhaps worn as a piece of jewelry. The technology in the camera and in the hearing aid would switch between lip-reading and hearing modes depending on the acoustic environment.

Professor Hussain is leading the project with support from Sheffield University, several hearing aid manufacturers, and the MRC Institute of Hearing Research at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. With the basic design of the piece already established, there are still a number of things to accomplish to create a successful prototype. The team does anticipate some difficulties with the project, including the design of the system that will process lip movement into speech in real-time.

If this technology develops as planned it could also be used to help anyone in a noisy environment including factories, warehouses, concerts, conventions, etc. It has the potential to help massive numbers of people. I’d use it!

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