When deaf people speak with other deaf people and others who know American Sign Language (ASL), communication is fast and generally pretty smooth. When they try to communicate with others who don’t know ASL, it can be difficult if not impossible. Lip reading helps some, but it’s often not sufficient.
Two undergraduate students from the University of Washington have invented gloves that translate gestures and signs to speech or text. Sophomores Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor won a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for inventing the SignAloud gloves. Previous ASL translators that use voice input or full-body sensor suits are inefficient or unpractical, said the two. “Our gloves are lightweight, compact and worn on the hands, but ergonomic enough to use as an everyday accessory, similar to hearing aids or contact lenses,” said Pryor.
The gloves each have sensors that record and transmit via Bluetooth hand positions and movements. The movement data analyzed by a series of statistical regressions and then the corresponding word or phrase is played through the speakers of a separate computer. It’s not clear whether the data-crunching computer is portable enough to be hand carried or worn on a belt, but as development progresses, if the interest for SignAloud is strong enough, you can bet that miniaturizing the device will be the least of the concerns.
SignAloud gloves are not available and there’s no current development timeline. Their initial target audience is the deaf and hearing impaired, but the gloves could also be used for other populations, such as people in rehab from strokes or others who need improved gesture control and dexterity.