Fans of the Mission Impossible movies may recall the agents’ use of a slim, throat-mounted device that changes the user’s voice. Well, Chinese scientists have now developed something similar, that could one day allow the mute to speak … in a manner of speaking.

A team of scientists from Beijing’s Tsinghua University started by developing a device that had to be taped to the user’s throat skin, although it proved to be too uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. With that in mind, they proceeded to change it into a thin, flexible wearable, that’s applied to the user’s throat by first wetting it with water, like a temporary tattoo.

Known as the Wearable Artificial Graphene Throat (WAGT), it was made by laser-scribing graphene that had been applied to a thin sheet of polyvinyl alcohol film. It measures just 0.6 by 1.2 inches (15 by 30 mm) although in its present form, it is hard-wired to a separate armband that contains a circuit board, microcomputer, power amplifier and decoder.

As the wearer noiselessly imitates the unique vocal cord and larynx movements involved in speaking a certain word, the WAGT detects those movements via the skin, decoding them to determine what the word in question is. The armband then “speaks” that word in a synthetic voice. So far, the system has only been trained to recognize a few basic words, such as “hello,” “OK” and “no.”

A paper on the research – which was led by He Tian, Yi Yang and Tian-Ling Ren – was recently published in the journal ACS Nano.

Stick-on device could let the speechless “speak” [New Atlas]