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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007, 12:41 GMT
Barnsley accent aids voice device
Ian McMillan
Mr McMillan was chosen for his distinct accent and clarity of speech
Scientists are using celebrity poet Ian McMillan's Barnsley accent to develop a hand-held communication device for local people with speech disorders.

He is working with Sheffield University on its Voice Input Voice Output Communication Aid (Vivoca) project.

The device will translate the user's voice, even if it is unintelligible, into ordinary speech.

Researchers have recorded Mr McMillan's voice as the "output voice" so that it matches the accent of local users.

A Sheffield University spokesman said: "The research team has previously shown that it is possible for a computer to recognise severely disordered speech, even if it is unintelligible to human listeners.

"The Vivoca device will work by recognising such speech and then outputting clear speech which conveys the intended message.

I'm happy, excited and flattered that my voice is going to be used to help others find their voice
Ian McMillan, celebrity poet

"The researchers believe the output speech will be more acceptable to the user if it sounds natural and has a local flavour - the voice of Mr McMillan."

The aid will consist of a hand-held computer and a wireless Bluetooth headset, similar to those used for hands-free kits for mobile phone, to help people who have difficulty in controlling the muscles involved in producing speech.

This can happen after strokes or as a result of disorders such as Parkinson's Disease or cerebral palsy.

Professor Phil Green, head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield said: "If the person is using the device as their primary mode of communication, it is important that the output voice is suitable to represent that person.

"We contacted Ian McMillan because his voice could provide that geographic identity for a local Vivoca user.

"His professional experience as a voice artist also means he was able to make accurate, consistent and natural sounding recordings from read speech."

'Real voice'

It is hoped that clients will eventually be able to choose from a range of male or female voices and adapt their chosen voice to resemble their own before their speech deteriorated.

Mr McMillan said: "'I'm happy, excited and flattered that my voice is going to be used to help others find their voice.

"For years I've wanted people to find their creative voice, but here's a concrete example of them finding their real voice."

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