Researchers from the University of Sheffield, with collaboration of a team from the University of Edinburgh, are experimenting with a voice replacement technique for people who are about to lose their vocal cords. The group partnered with a woman that was going to have her vocal cords removed in a scheduled cancer surgery. Prior to the procedure, her voice was recorded on a computer and then used as a template to create a digitized voice that sounds very much like her. We are 100% for this new technology, as we can’t stand that terrible, scary, artificial voice converter that’s being used nowadays.
The voice was built using around seven minutes of speech from the client, which amounted to 100 sentences. This method is therefore much more practical than established `Voice Banking´ technologies which require two or three hours of recording to build a voice.
The client´s regenerated voice was developed by University of Sheffield Master´s student Zahoor Khan as part of his dissertation, with guidance from research student Sarah Creer, whose doctoral work uses the same technique to improve the voices of people with speech disorders. Their work forms part of the research done within the CAST (Clinical Application of Speech Technology) group, which is a multidisciplinary research group interested in applying speech technology in clinical areas such as assistive technology, speech and language therapy and electronic control systems.
Researchers have since assessed the quality of the recordings by getting listeners to judge the similarity of the simulated voice with the original and by asking Mrs Chapman and her family what they think of the voice. All listeners have thought the regenerated voice sounded very similar to the original.
Researchers in CAST hope to use these personalised synthetic voices in communication aids for people whose speech has become intelligible, speaking for them like a human interpreter.
Bernadette Chapman [the study subject] said: “For many years the Servox machine, or artificial larynx, has been the main means of communication for patients following laryngectomy or for those who have had severe speech impairment. The machine tends to sound very like a dalek and can be very embarrassing to use, especially in public places.”