Computerized analysis of the tongue surface movement can provide valuable information to speech and swallowing research. Ultrasound technology is currently the most attractive modality for the tongue imaging mainly because of its high video frame rate. However, problems with ultrasound imaging, such as noise and echo artifacts, refractions, and unrelated reflections pose significant challenges for computer analysis of the tongue images and hence specific methods must be developed. This paper presents a system that is developed for automatic extraction and tracking of the tongue surface movements from ultrasound image sequences. The ultrasound images are supplied by the head and transducer support system (HATS), which was developed in order to fix the head and support the transducer under the chin in a known position without disturbing speech. In this work, we propose a novel scheme for the analysis of the tongue images using deformable contours. We incorporate novel mechanisms to 1) impose speech related constraints on the deformations; 2) perform spatiotemporal smoothing using a contour postprocessing stage; 3) utilize optical flow techniques to speed up the search process; and 4) propagate user supplied information to the analysis of all image frames. We tested the system's performance qualitatively and quantitatively in consultation with speech scientists. Our system produced contours that are within the range of manual measurement variations. The results of our system are extremely encouraging and the system can be used in practical speech and swallowing research in the field of otolaryngology.
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