SCOTTISH scientists are to create the first hearing aid that can read lips.
The gadget will use a tiny camera to identify the patterns of a speaker’s lip movements.
Cutting edge software will then translate the patterns into speech to be played in the wearer’s ear instantaneously.
The camera could be hidden discreetly in the earpiece itself or even in a pair of glasses or a piece of jewellery.
The camera will beam the words directly to the earpiece using wireless technology, switching between lip-reading and hearing modes depending on the acoustic environment.
Professor Amir Hussain from the University of Stirlingshire is leading the project, which is supported by Sheffield University, the Scottish section of the MRC Institute of Hearing Research at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and a number of manufacturers.
He said: “Deafness touches a huge number of people in the UK and abroad, either because people have a hearing loss themselves or live or work with someone who does.
“Our goal is to develop the world’s first hearing aid that can lip read. It has the potential to make a massive difference to people’s lives.”
Research shows that around 10m people in the UK suffer from hearing impairment, and inventors and deaf campaigners are hoping that their gadget will improve the lives of many.
Delia Henry, from the charity Action on Hearing Loss, said that the project would be a breakthrough in hearing aid technology.
The inventors also suspect that the aid could be used in other noisy environments, such as factories or even battlefields.
Although the basic design of the piece has been established, there are a number of hurdles to the completion of a successful prototype.
The team are currently anticipating some difficulties with the revolutionary project, including designing a system to process lip movement into speech in real-time.
The public are now being invited to contribute to the initiative in its early stages through a project website.