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Ultrax Project 1 - Research

Overview of Research for the first Ultrax project

The aim of this project in the Ultrax research stream is to develop technology to turn ultrasound into a cost-effective tongue imaging device to provide real-time visual feedback of tongue movements.  

The project to develop Ultrax comprises two main complementary research tracks:

  • One to develop the core technologies
  • One to test and evaluate the system in a clinical setting


Developing new technology (track 1)

Most current interventions for SSDs rely heavily on auditory skills; clients must listen to their own sounds and try to modify them.  However, with Ultrax people with SSDs will actually be able to see the movements of their own tongues and use this as a guide to changing their speech.  


Raw Ultrasound Scan

It is already possible to capture tongue movements by placing a standard medical ultrasound probe under the chin.  Ultrasound has the potential to provide powerful information about atypical speech and to enable speakers to modify their own incorrect articulations.  However, the image is grainy, information (especially about the tongue tip) is often lost and the image is difficult to interpret. We will improve this image by exploiting prior knowledge about the range of possible tongue shapes and movements in order to provide valuable constraints in tracking tongue contours in sequences of ultrasound images. 


At the heart of our approach, we shall exploit a statistical "tongue model", making use of explicit sequence-based optimization for dynamic tracking and smoothing through time. We will use this technology to enhance the ultrasound images, transforming them into a dynamic, real-time 2D video of the tongue's movements that we hypothesize will a) be more easily understood by children, and b) extend the range of visible tongue shapes from only vowels and /r/ to include /t/,/k/,/ch/ and other consonants which are often targets for therapy.


Clinical development and evaluation (track 2)

Ultrax will be used to provide bio-feedback therapy for people with SSDs and to provide a means for objectively assessing progress by comparing tongue shapes before and after therapy. 

We will collect a large database of ultrasound and MRI images of tongue movements from 12 adults (ultrasound and MRI) and 90 primary school children (ultrasound) on which to base the model of tongue contours and to test its performance.  At the same time, we will split the 90 children into 3 groups and record each group's response to one of 3 types of ultrasound display: 


  1. Raw, un-enhanced ultrasound 
  2. Un-enhanced ultrasound with added anatomical context (e.g. the position of the teeth and roof of the mouth) 
  3. Fully enhanced ultrasound, developed in this project


The ability of the children to imitate tongue shapes and movements will be evaluated to determine whether they find the enhanced images easier to interpret than unenhanced images, leading to an improved ability use ultrasound for bio-visual feedback. 

Finally, we will also trial ultrasound therapy with 9 children with SSDs (3 children for each type of display) enabling us to evaluate practical issues arising during therapy and pave the way for a future large-scale clinical trial. 


End goal

At the conclusion of this research project we will have developed the basis for a new visual-feedback tool (Ultrax) for Speech and Language Therapists to use in the diagnosis and treatment of SSDs. 

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