“The world’s first lip-reading mobile is being developed by researchers at Japanese cellphone maker NTT DoCoMo.
Although still some way off, the phone should put an end to users having to shout down their handsets, even in noisy environments. All they have to do is mouth their words silently, and the phone will convert them to speech or text.
DoCoMo’s early prototype works out which words are being said by using a contact sensor near the phone’s mouthpiece to detect tiny electrical signals sent by muscles around the user’s mouth. The signals are then converted into spoken words by a speech synthesiser, or into text for a text message or email.
DoCoMo reckons that avoiding the need to tap out emails on a tiny keypad could be a significant bonus when future 3G networks arrive.
Engineers are still developing the lip-reading software for the project. They say a test model can now recognise vowels with what they call an acceptable error rate, and are now working on the tougher task of recognising consonants. Lip-reading accuracy, they say, could also be boosted using the tiny cameras that will be common on 3G phones.
The spur to developing such a phone, says DoCoMo, was ridding public places of noise. In Japan, mobiles are already banned on some public transport networks, and in many other places etiquette requires that people using a phone have to hold a hand discreetly over their mouth.
The technology is also expected to help people who have permanently lost their voice, says DoCoMo, which plans to make it available in about five years’ time. ”