Rethinking Healthcare

Gloves turn sign language into speech

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Lined with a dozen sensors, EnableTalk senses the movements of the wearer's hands and fingers and translate the signs into spoken words.

There are an estimated 40 million deaf, mute, or deaf-mute people in the world today. And while many of them can communicate with each other through sign language, there's a linguistic wall between them and people who can speak and write but don't know signs.

A team of Ukrainian researchers called QuadSquad is trying to bring down that barrier. They've designed a system called EnableTalk, which includes a glove that can sense the movements of the wearer's hands and fingers and translate the signs into spoken words.

  • Each glove is lined with more than a dozen flex sensors thin strips that detect changes in resistance and can tell when a finger is bent and touch sensors.
  • Built-in accelerometers can tell when the hand gestures, and in which direction.
  • On the back of the hand lies a controller, the heart of the system that analyzes all these incoming signals and transmits them via Bluetooth to a mobile device.
  • A lithium-ion battery charged via USB powers the device (though QuadSquad built in solar cells to provide extra juice).
  • Finally, Windows 8 software that the team developed translates the signals into an audio signal, and spoken words emerge.

EnableTalk recently became one of 6 finalists at Microsoft's Imagine Cup. The researchers say the cost of the prototype adds up to only about $75. Plus, it can learn.

Besides the cost, though, another feature that makes this project so interesting is that users can teach the system new gestures and modify those that the team plans to ship in a library of standard gestures, TechCrunch reports. Given the high degree of variation among sign languages, which also has regional dialects just like spoken language, this will be a welcome feature for users.

[Via TechCrunch]

Image: EnableTalk gallery

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure