IM this article to a friend!

June 4, 2004

Talking heads help hearing-impaired take phonecalls

From: E-Health Insider - UK - Jun 4, 2004

New software being developed may give the deaf and hard-of-hearing a new way of receiving phonecalls – using a computer generated face that users can lip-read.

The SYNFACE software connects to regular computer microphone and soundcard hardware, which in turn is connected to the telephone line. The software can make and receive calls in the usual way. When a connection is made, a face appears on screen which syncs in time with the speaker on the other line.

The EU-funded project, which has been in development for the past three years, is part of the new UCL Centre for Human Communication. The centre opens today and is intended to bring together academics and researchers from many different disciplines.

Dr Andrew Faulkner, who heads the project, said that the software is a unique development. "The recognition software hears vowel and constant sounds and replicates them on screen. It's very different from most speech recognition software, which uses a lot of contextual information. It's a very distinct method; operating over a very short timeframe of speech, and it has to be pretty much in real time. There's only a delay of 150ms."

Dr Faulkner also agreed that the software might dramatically improve disabled access to NHS phone-based services, such as NHS Direct.

Penaran Higgs from RNID told E-Health Insider: "Deaf and hard-of-hearing people face many technological barriers in their daily lives that can be greatly improved with the help of new developments such as this. Evaluations currently being run by RNID aim to gain measures of the effectiveness and usability of SYNFACE. So far the results have been very encouraging, with exciting implications for the future."

SYNFACE is currently in final tests, and the project team eventually intends to distribute the software commercially. A video demonstration of SYNFACE in action can be found at: