Sunday, March 16, 2008

UCSC project aims to provide a virtual speech therapist via cell phone

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have received funding from Microsoft Research to develop a virtual speech therapist, accessible on a cell phone, to aid stroke survivors in Malaysia. The self-contained language rehabilitation program will use a computer-generated talking head that provides realistic speech and mimics the natural movements of lips, tongue, and jaw.

About 40,000 people suffer from stroke every year in Malaysia, and communication impairments are common among stroke survivors, said principal investigator Sri Kurniawan, an assistant professor of computer engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UCSC. As in many developing countries, however, access to speech therapy is limited. A shortage of speech therapists in Malaysia is one obstacle, and patients often have difficulty traveling to existing speech therapy centers.

"This project aims to create a virtual speech therapist on a cell phone," Kurniawan said. "Initially, the patient will meet with a therapist to work out individualized therapy programs. Then the programs will be loaded onto a cell phone and given to the patient."