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Researchers Aim to Create Virtual Speech Therapist

A stroke survivor (right) works with a virtual travel agent (left) on a computer screen.

Researchers in a virtual rehabilitation study at Temple University are working to develop a virtual speech therapist that can continue to work with patients after health insurers stop paying for real-world therapy.

Credit: Associated Press

Temple University is the site of a two-year, virtual rehabilitation study. Researchers working to develop a virtual speech therapist are testing a computerized travel agent, and the technology could serve as a key tool in helping people overcome the language disorder known as aphasia.

Patients need to continuously practice their skills, but health insurers only pay for a limited amount of therapy. Temple plans to challenge patients to spontaneously generate speech, says Emily Keshner. "They are actually put in a situation, which we hope is going to be natural, that requires that they come up with the correct words in the correct order," she says.

Temple wants to build the avatar's vocabulary so that it can recognize all possible pronunciations of various words and respond with appropriate dialogue, and a bigger test will be programming it to correct users who misspeak. The mouth movements of therapists also are helpful to patients, so the team will need to get these movements right.

The researchers also want to examine whether patients respond differently to virtual and human therapists, and they are experimenting with the avatar's gender, ethnicity, and voice texture.

From Associated Press
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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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