Face masks, a new normal since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, can muffle sounds to make speech understanding difficult. People often have no choice but to speak louder and can strain their throat muscles. This communication stress can hinder a quick response in a hospital setting, fire emergency, or other urgent situation. Fortunately, a research team recently developed a new smart microphone that will allow for smoother communication at such events.
A research team led by Professor Kilwon Cho, Dr Siyoung Lee and Hajung Roh (Department of Chemical Engineering) at POSTECH has developed a skin-attachable microphone sensor that clearly detects voices even in noisy environments. Their work was featured on the back cover in the recent issue of Advanced material.
Microphones built into telephones and walkie-talkies are widely used in daily life and industries. Conventional devices, however, cannot clearly recognize human voices in very windy or noisy environments, or when the interlocutor is wearing a mask.
To overcome this gap, the research team applied polymer electrets to microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) to develop an auditory sensor. The electret-powered, hole patterned polymer diaphragm is incorporated into a skin-attachable auditory sensor, which reduces the need for a battery to function. The sophisticated diaphragm structure based on MEMS technology gives the hearing sensor a high fit and portability.
The diaphragm allows the sensor to detect neck and skin vibrations generated when a person speaks. Those who use this sensor can hear sounds clearly even in a concert hall or other noisy places, or when their faces are completely covered with a gas mask.
This new technology can be used for disaster response communication between medical professionals wearing protective equipment against respiratory diseases, including COVID-19, and firefighters wearing gas masks and other forms of turnout equipment. .
In addition, this technology will be applicable as a diagnostic device that identifies respiratory diseases by measuring the number or severity of cough in real time or as a health monitoring device that analyzes voice usage patterns to understand if the vocal cords are healthy.
This study was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea.
Materials provided by Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH). Note: The content can be changed by style and length.