Voice-recognition has transformed our smart phones into personal assistants—a remarkable feat—but these benefits have thus far left out millions of people with speech or hearing impairments who rely on sign language. There exists no comparable way for computers to capture and act on a dialect of gestures. Until now.
An invention called EnableTalk from a crew of Ukranian programmers and designers (named the “QuadSquad”) has the potential to transform the way that sign language speakers communicate with digital devices, as well as the rest of the non-signing population. EnableTalk looks like a high-tech biking glove, equipped with 15 sensors that recognize the gestures of a signers’ hands, send the information to a software program via Bluetooth, and translate the data into sound played though smartphone speakers.
If the technology is successful, the implications for improving the lives of the speech and hearing impaired are endless. “Sign language only partially provides the ability to communicate—only in limited circumstances and among a limited group of people,” QuadSquad explains on their website. “Even something as habitual for the rest of us as shopping becomes problematic when a disabled person is confronted with a shop assistant who does not know sign language.” Using EnableTalk could allow someone to navigate such situations with an unprecedented level of ease.
Solar panels are also embedded in the gloves to keep the juice flowing even when there’s no time to charge. And the technology allows users to train the glove to recognize new gestures—since, just like spoken language, sign languages have their dialects.
Earlier this summer the team took home $25,000 as the software design winners at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, money which will be used to help eventually bring the product to market–with a price tag under $100.
Image via EnableTalk