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Ultrasound lets users whisper across distance

Work & Lifestyle

The University of Bristol’s Project Telepathy uses targeted ultrasound beams so users can talk quietly and privately to each other up to 30 metres apart.

A new technology is being developed by the University of Bristol that could revolutionize communications, particularly for Special Forces troops and Secret Service agents. The full name of the concept is “Project Telepathy: Targeted Verbal Communication Using 3D Beamforming Speakers and Facial Electromyography” and it’s been led by engineer Asier Marzo.

Users need to wear a speaker on their head or chest and attach four electrodes around their lips and jaw. The electrodes then read the facial movements as the user speaks, and the speaker fires a narrow ultrasonic beam, projected at a six-degree angle, that only anyone in its path can hear. It can also be paired with an eye-tracking camera or laser pointer to make the beam more accurate.

Asier and his team developed an algorithm to detect 10 different words, such as yes, no, stop and back (simple commands), and even when mouthed silently the electrodes translated at 80 percent accuracy. Future versions of the tech should allow for much more complexity in the language conversion, and for the rig to be smaller and concealed.

“It’s a very quiet sound, but you don’t know where it’s coming from,” described Asier. “It’s like someone is whispering into your ear, but nobody is there.” Ultrasound travels well through water, so expect the British SBS and American Navy SEALs to show a huge interest.

We’re seeing more and more uses of ultrasound in inventions, such as a wearable, which helps the partially sighted detect upcoming obstacles and a sensor-packed vest, which helps military and emergency services personnel through low visibility environments. What other uses could this technology be adapted for?



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