The first smart wearable device that tracks how much people use their voice may help to prevent vocal fatigue and potential injury.
Developed by Northwestern University researchers, the device is soft, battery-powered, wireless, and the size of a postage stamp. It adheres to the sternum, below the neck, and syncs with the app on the accompanying device.
The device senses vibrations associated with talking and singing but is immune to ambient noises. It streams captured data instantaneously via Bluetooth to the user's smartphone or tablet. This way, the user can monitor their vocal activities in real-time and measure cumulative total vocal usage throughout the day.
The algorithms distinguish the difference between speaking and singing, allowing users to track each activity separately.
Using the app, users can set their personalized vocal thresholds. When they are approaching the threshold, a smartphone or other accompanying device provides real-time haptic feedback as an alert.
"It's easy for people to forget how much they use their voice," said Northwestern's Theresa Brancaccio, a voice expert who co-led the study. "Seasoned classical singers tend to be more aware of their vocal usage because they have lived and learned. But some people — especially singers with less training or people, like teachers, politicians, and sports coaches, who must speak a lot for their jobs — often don't realize how much they are pushing it. We want to give them greater awareness to help prevent injury."
Vocal fatigue is defined as a measurable form of performance fatigue resulting from overuse of the voice, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One in 13 U.S. adults has experienced vocal fatigue, but most people don't notice they are overusing their voices until hoarseness has already set in.
To protect your voice, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders recommends:
- Avoid speaking or singing when your voice is hoarse or tired.
- Rest your voice when you are sick.
- Avoid using the extremes of your vocal range, such as screaming or whispering.
- Practice good breathing techniques when singing or talking.
- Avoid cradling the phone when talking.
- Avoid talking in noisy places.
- Northwestern University. First wearable device for vocal fatigue senses when your voice needs a break.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Closed-loop network of skin-interfaced wireless devices for quantifying vocal fatigue and providing user feedback.
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Taking Care of Your Voice.