Sunday, 4 March 2012

 A pair of Japanese researchers has figured out a polite way to get a long-winded gabber to stop talking: simply point their SpeechJammer gun at the speaker, and shoot.
Kazutaka Kurihara, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tskuba, and Koji Tsukada, of Ochanomizu University, published a report today on their novel device which, ironically, has a lot of people talking about all of its potential uses.
How it works
The SpeechJammer comes equipped with a directional microphone. When a person speaks, the microphone listens and within 0.2 seconds, it plays back what the person is saying with a directional speaker. Doing this triggers “delayed auditory feedback (DAF),” an effect that psychologists have long known about as being an effective way to interrupt someone’s speech.
A good example of DAF is when you’re talking into your cell phone and hear your own voice echoing on the other end — while that might be a half or full second’s delay, it’s enough to give you pause. Well, the duo’s device is much faster with its auditory feedback, which causes greater confusion and quickly increases the stress level of the speaker. This, in turn, jams them up from what they’re trying to say.
The device can be aimed at a speaker from a distance, kind of like a gun, and the team has seen successful results from as far back as 100 feet:
Given that the effectiveness of DAF depends largely on the time required for transmission of the acoustic waves across the air, Kurihara and Tsukada were very particular when it came to the parts used in the SpeechJammer.
Two prototype devices were developed. The second one is pictured here:
This SpeechJammer, in particular, is portable and can handle standalone operations without a host PC. The direction-sensitive microphone is a Sony ECMCZ10; the direction sensitive speaker is a tri-state Parametric Speaker Kit. In terms of additional components, there’s also a laser pointer (used to set the device’s sight), a distance meter, various switches, and a mother board all fitted in an originally designed acrylic case.
In terms of the motherboard, there’s a microcomputer (Microchip PIC18F-452), a digital delay IC (Rohm BU9262AFS), a pre-amplifier, a main amplifier, and auxiliary circuits.
Audio signals coming from the direction sensitive microphone are directed to the digital delay IC on the mother board (via the pre-amplifier). The digital delay IC can be controlled using a serial interface and an appropriate delay from 9.2 milliseconds to 192 milliseconds is set using an 8-state rotary switch (located on back).
Output signals from the digital delay IC are directed to the direction sensitive speaker (via the main-amplifier). The pre- and main-amplifier are muted by default; they only get turned on when a trigger switch is pulled.
The gain of the two amplifiers can by adjusted using volume knobs (located on top and back of case).
The microcomputer is used to control the digital delay PC, the trigger switch, the rotary switch, the distance meter, etc.
In testing the device out, Kurihara and Tsukada say their speech jamming gun works very well and that it can disturb a person’s speech from a remote distance without any physical discomfort.
Two interesting things the pair noticed: the gun is more effective when the delay varies; also it’s more effective against someone reading from a script (as opposed to speaking normally).
One negative point: the SpeechJammer does not have much effect on meaningless sounds, like “Aaaargh” (meaning it’s probably useless in a zombie apocalypse).
Where could the SpeechJammer be used?
In the report, there were no claims about how this device could be used commercially. The team did, however, list two forms of appropriate application: 1. Keep people silent in quiet settings like a library
2. Help referee discussions in group meetings
In regard to the latter application, Kurihara and Tsukada wrote: “We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking. However, some people tend to lengthen their turns or deliberately interrupt other people when it is their turn in order to establish their presence rather than achieve more fruitful discussions. Furthermore, some people tend to jeer at speakers to invalidate their speech.”
So, how about we fast-track the production of this device to have it implemented before the next Republican primary?
Kurihara and Tsukada’s report is published under the title: SpeechJammer: A System Utilizing Artificial Speech Disturbance with Delayed Auditory Feedback. You can access it via or download the PDF below. It’s definitely worth the read, as they go into greater detail about how, exactly, they developed this device


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