TALENT EDUCATION

Let the voiceless “wear” the throat on the body, and the Tsinghua team did it!


It turns out that scenes from tech movies are implanted in real life

Only this one “chip” is missing

A graphene sheet the size of a coin

It can help people with language impairments regain a new “voice”

In the laboratory of the School of Integrated Circuits of Tsinghua University

By Professor Ren Tianling’s team

For the first time, graphene will be called “black gold”

Convert to one with “transceiver integration”

Wearable smart artificial throat device

Developed “graphene artificial throat”

This “chip” that combines appearance and strength

Why is it so strong?

What’s the story behind it?

?

3 iterations

Today, human acoustic systems are helping to improve people’s quality of life with the help of artificial intelligence innovations. Breaking the language barrier and making patients express themselves from silent to “sound and color” is an innovative step taken by graphene artificial larynx.

What is graphene? Why choose it?

Graphene is a two-dimensional crystal stripped from graphite material and composed of carbon atoms with only one layer of atomic thickness, which has extremely high electron mobility, excellent mechanical strength, excellent thermal conductivity, high sensitivity to low-frequency muscle movement, intermediate frequency esophageal vibration and high-frequency acoustic wave information, and also has noise-resistant speech perception ability.

In 2017, Ren Tianling’s team innovatively proposed an integrated acoustic device based on graphene: using piezoresistive effect to receive signals and emitting sound based on thermoacoustic effects, thus cleverly realizing the sound transmitting and receiving congenities of a single device.

In the device preparation process, the unique laser direct writing technology is adopted, which can directly convert the low-cost large-area polyimide film into a patterned porous graphene material.

Although this is only a small mechanical sensor, it can “work wonders”.

On the one hand, the graphene intelligent artificial throat has high thermal conductivity and low heat capacity, and can emit wide-spectrum sound from 100Hz-40kHz through thermoacoustic effects; On the other hand, it can distinguish between low groans, screams, coughing, swallowing, nodding and other actions, and convert this “meaningless sound” into a sound with controllable frequency and intensity, which undoubtedly brings a “new revolution” in acoustic devices.

The results were published in Nature Machine Intelligence, a subsidiary of Nature.

Use a smart wearable artificial throat for silent voice interaction

If at the beginning, the “graphene artificial laryngeal” can only realize simple acquisition and sound functions, after two iterations, the graphene intelligent artificial larynx (WAGT) has made major breakthroughs in device flexible attachability, sound transceiver system integration, motion monitoring system, light wearable, etc., realizing the closed loop of sound input to output, and can observe laryngeal movement in real time through the oscilloscope.

Wearable second-generation intelligent graphene artificial laryngeal system

In the third iteration, the team developed an integrated “artificial throat” that is smaller and more functional. The diaphragm is connected via wires to a microcontroller measuring only 2 square centimeters in size, which can be carried in a pocket and comes with a button-sized battery, which is simple and convenient.

When the wearer whispers, the graphene artificial larynx senses the vibration state of the throat, extracts key acoustic features, and performs audio signal processing through artificial intelligence models to synthesize smooth and natural speech, realizing the action sound system.

It is understood that the new generation of graphene artificial larynx can basically restore the patient’s language communication ability, and identify the vaguely spoken daily words of a laryngectomy patient, with an accuracy rate of more than 90%. Even whispers, screams and coughs of different frequencies can be recorded, encoded, and classified by the device to “decode” different kinds of deaf “language”, and after training, it is expected to realize the dream of “chanting and singing”.

Easy operation, put the throat “on” the body!

Integrated sending and receiving, better use with it!

Precise expression, “singing poetry” is not a dream!

“This is an intelligent chip system that can read people and replace people’s expression,” Ren Tianling introduced, “which also means a new way of interaction.” ”

Design and performance characterization of next-generation graphene artificial throat devices

“People-oriented”

“No matter what kind of technology you make, you should think more about people.” Ren Tianling emphasized this sentence word by word.

In China, more than 300,000 people lose their voices every year due to accidents or surgery for diseases such as cancer – the easiest and fastest way for humans to communicate. Although there are currently traditional artificial laryngies that can be used, in addition to high cost and high consumption, there are also problems such as troublesome use, poor experience, and ambiguous pronunciation for patients. In particular, the sound of the traditional artificial larynx is the sound of an electronic machine, which inevitably appears abrupt and cold in daily communication.

Therefore, if high-precision non-invasive portable voice interaction can be realized, it will undoubtedly light up a light for many patients with anechoia.

For the past 8 years, Ren Tianling has been conducting research work. In foreign academic exchanges, seeing that some developed countries attach importance to human health issues, he guided team members to pay attention to basic research, to “people-oriented”, emphasizing transformation and practicality to enhance scientific research strength.

In the nearly 20 years since the discovery of graphene, Ren Tianling has not only participated in the basic research and practical application of the device, but also committed to empowering the national medical and health undertakings with new micro-nanoelectronic devices that break through the limitations of traditional devices. “In the research, the focus is on how to realize its potential, and prioritize solving the urgent problems facing humanity today.”

“When I was researching in the hospital, what struck me the most was that patients with anechoia would rather choose painful chemotherapy and retain vocal cord function.” Wei Yuhong from the School of Integrated Circuits said that the voices of many patients have touched and inspired her a lot, and she pays more attention to people’s experience and portability when studying two-dimensional materials. Through the integrated AI model researched by the team, high-precision recognition is achieved, and the emotional appeal of patients is restored as much as possible.

Ren Tianling believes that no matter how sophisticated the theory or technology, only “people-oriented” can really play a role. Graphene artificial throat uses intelligent models to learn people, understand people, adapt to people, and serve people, which is the best interpretation of this point.

Application acceleration

There are more than 20 direct participants in the graphene artificial throat research team. Adhering to the mission of Tsinghua people, with the original intention and sentiment of “striving to make more contributions to the society”, they have achieved a breakthrough in graphene artificial throat from “0 to 1” step by step, radiating more people with sound impairments and users of voice interaction.

“We overcome difficulties every day, there are no shortcuts.” Countless overnight experiments, research visits to multiple intelligent medical fields, collection of samples……. Wei Yuhong said, “The artificial laryngeal system is a relatively complex engineering project, and the most critical problem is signal acquisition. Because laryngeal vibration is relatively weak, the quality of the data initially collected is actually not ideal. Our experimenters have also tried many times on ourselves, mainly to put more effort! ”

In April 2021, Ren Tianling was awarded the title of “Good Teacher and Helpful Friend” of Tsinghua University

For eight years, Ren Tianling led the team to carry out collaborative research, continuous theoretical iteration and model evolution, and finally designed an artificial larynx suitable for ordinary patients.

“Sound information processing is a complex problem involving multiple disciplines and fields that requires more expertise and experience.” Yang Qisheng, who is in charge of graphene artificial intelligence, under the support and guidance of Ren Tianling, learned sound information theory, optimized devices and hardware systems, and sought cooperation and communication from multiple parties…”These made me more aware of the professionalism, innovation and teamwork spirit of scientific research workers. ”

This original research achievement is an important innovation in the field of intelligent devices in China. Facing the world’s scientific and technological frontier, the national social needs, and the people’s life and health, it took the lead in developing graphene artificial laryngeal acoustic devices, and took the lead in realizing the leapfrog development of wearable artificial laryngeal technology.

Speaking of future applications, Ren Tianling said that the accumulation of years of research work has made the productization and mass production of “artificial throat” very likely to be realized, and according to different needs, multi-field and multidisciplinary in-depth cooperation to form a higher-level intelligent system. At present, the device is being combined with voiceprint recognition, machine learning and other technologies, and will have broad prospects in speech recognition, home medical and other fields. “There are no technical hurdles that are insurmountable.” Ren Tianling said with a smile.

The pursuit of truth and knowledge

Responsibility to society and the country

Concern and care for the destiny of mankind

Based on China, leading the world

Tsinghua researcher

Always on the road!
 
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