The power of (synthetic) speech

A single spoken word takes three breaths and a great deal of willpower for Geoffrey Roberts: like thousands of people, he has cerebral palsy, which also makes his speech nearly unintelligible to those who do not know him. His limited speech is a source of great frustration for his otherwise nimble mind.

That is why a technology being developed at Barnsley Hospital and Sheffield University is nothing short of revolutionary for people like him. The Voice Input Voice Output Communication Aid (Vivoca) uses speech recognition technology to translate severely distorted words into clear sentences. It can also communicate entire sentences having heard only one or two key words.

The aid consists of a handheld computer and a wireless Bluetooth headset. Users will also be able to choose from a range of male and female recorded voices and regional dialects. Voices in the bank already include the Barnsley poet Ian McMillan and the Yorkshire BBC newsreader Christa Ackroyd. People who are slowly losing their speech - through Parkinson's or motor neurone disease, for instance - can record their voice before it has completely deteriorated.