Masaki Takeuchi’s wearable artificial larynx Syrinx was chosen for the 2020 INNO-vation Program’s Disruptive Challenge, in which research and development on the device continued to progress.
(Click here to read Part 1)
Within the INNO-vation Program’s Disruptive Challenge is a support amount of up to 3 million Japanese yen. With this support, Takeuchi was able to procure a displacement sensor. Artificial larynxes work because of the vibrating oscillators located inside the device. Those vibrations are transmitted to the throat, which produces a voice. It goes without saying that to perform precise and accurate research, precise and accurate measurements are required. Takeuchi explained how the INNO-vation Program helped him procure the sensor that helped him make these measurements. “[Displacement sensors] are so expensive that I would never be able to get one under normal circumstances, but I was able to purchase one thanks to the INNO-vation Program’s support, and I’m still using it even today.”
Another thing Takeuchi says was important during the program was getting people to actually try out Syrinx and listening to their feedback. After visiting a hospital and having four patients who had lost their voices try out Syrinx for themselves, he discovered a few things he needed to improve on. The voice produced by Syrinx was still robotic, and the buzzing sound made by the vibrations was concerning. That’s not to say all the feedback he received was negative. He was also told that being able to produce a voice while in rehab was really uplifting. Takeuchi used these words as encouragement and support during the development process.
Takeuchi also had an encounter with an elementary school student with CLD, or chronic lung disease. The child’s parents had learned of Syrinx through the device’s website, and they soon reached out to Takeuchi. “We’d like to use this to let our child respond during their elementary school graduation ceremony,” the email said. Takeuchi agreed to provide a device for the child and thought up a version of Syrinx that would be easy to use with a buckle and strap that would best fit a smaller neck area. The child was then able to use Syrinx at their graduation ceremony. “I was really happy to hear that. They’re still using it to this day,” Takeuchi said with a smile.
Takeuchi tried various different methods to solve the lingering vibration sound problem, such as surrounding the oscillator with rubber or applying gel, but he wasn’t able to come up with a viable solution. He also tried using a muscle hardness tester to look for certain principles regarding where the device was placed on the throat, but wasn’t able to uncover anything concrete.
“Whether it was the buzzing sound or the positioning of the device, I wasn’t able to come up with the correct solutions, but I think it’s just as fruitful to discover and realize the things you don’t yet understand. I tried to implement a lot of things during the INNO-vation Program which will end up connecting to my future research,” Takeuchi said.
In Part 3, we’ll ask Takeuchi about his developments after the INNO-vation Program.