Speech Generator for Autistic Children

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The Concept


The students identified a truly community driven project; a device that would give a voice to autistic people! Autism is a neurological disorder that affects a person's verbal communication capability.

The design would include a light, soft, yet robust device, about the size of a laptop PC, which would have interchangeable pages on its top side. These pages would be used to display a range of pictures, that the person could touch in order to communicate what he or she wanted. For example, by touching the picture of a glass of water, the device would automatically generate the word "water," indicating that the person was thirsty. Furthermore, this message would be sent wirelessly to any FM radio which was tuned into a specific channel. This would allow the parents or carer to monitor the person on any FM radio, ie on the car radio whilst travelling, or on the radio when at home etc. What a fantastic invention!


The Creation

To build the "touch-screen," the students assembled a matrix of micro switches and fitted them between two computer mouse pads. This cushioning effect allowed the switches to be activated when the paper above them was pressed. These switches were aligned with the pictures so that when a picture is pressed, the associated switch would be momentarily activated. The outputs of the switches were wired to the microcontroller.

The students then purchased an MP3 player and recorded each description i.e. "I am thirsty," into separate files (or Tracks), and noted the relevant track numbers. The control buttons on the MP3 player were then accessed via electrical cables, and were also fed to the microcontroller. This enabled the microcontroller to control the MP3 player to play specific tracks.

The challenge was then to write a program that could interpret which switch was depressed, and then drive the MP3 player to the appropriate track.

The finished project was a resounding (Re-"Sounding") success! The school is now considering commercialising the project so that it could be provided to autistic people around the world!





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