Gloves That Translate Sign Language Into Speech

Some students in the Ukraine have come up with something very cool: a pair of gloves that translate universal sign language into spoken words. Think of them as a built-in translator for the deaf. The students call their invention EnableTalk.

The gloves use flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers to sense the movements being made by the speaker’s hands. These are then translated via processors into spoken words and played on a speaker through a simple text-to-speech engine through a smart phone connected via Bluetooth.

The team, called QuadSquad, was presented at the finals during the Microsoft Imagine Cup in Sydney, Australia. Deservedly, the team took first place with their invention.

Previous ideas along these lines have been thousand dollar (plus) contraptions, usually with fewer sensors and wired to something else, making them cumbersome. The Ukranian team built EnableTalk with more sensors, no wires, and at a hardware cost of around $75 per pair of gloves. The team expects future refinements to have the gloves market-ready at a low price point (perhaps $200 per pair) with an app for smart phones that can be configured in any of several world languages.

The team also plans to expand the app’s offering to have regional dialects (so someone from Toronto could have gloves that sound different than someone from, say, Texas). Another feature is “learning.”

The gloves can learn new gestures and have those built-in be modified by the user. So sign language “shorthand” could be created by a user to make some things faster. A science student, for instance, could include several scientific jargon phrases with their own gestures in order to make conversations with colleagues easier. This also allows those using regional dialects of Universal Sign to modify their gestures to fit local phrases and terms.

The gloves, being debuted at a Microsoft event, obviously synch with Microsoft phones, but use the old Windows Mobile instead of Phone 7 because 7 doesn’t allow Bluetooth from third party apps. EnableTalk will almost assuredly work with Phone 8, of course.

The team tested several prototypes as the system progressed. They used students using sign language in the Ukraine and were inspired by hearing impaired athletes at their school.

Very cool indeed. You can find out more at EnableTalk.com.

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