While applications such as Google Translate can help us understand the written word in foreign languages on the fly, there hasn’t really been such an application to help with sign language. Rather than relying on sound, sign language is comprised of a series of rapid hand gestures that have to be seen and analyzed together before making sense.
It’s certainly a daunting task to create something that can understand and translate such a unique method of communication, but in the case of University of Washington students Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor, they took it upon themselves to make sign language easier to understand both for the hearing impaired as well as the people they communicate with.
Back in 2016, the two developed “SignAloud” – a pair of gloves that analyze hand gestures in American Sign Language and instantaneously translates them into spoken words and sentences. Using Bluetooth technology to wirelessly transmit data, an onboard computer matches the user’s hand gestures to its own sign language library. If a gesture matches a word or letter, the translated data gets turned into audio which is played through the SignAloud.
The two created the device in the University of Washington CoMotion MakerSpace with the help of the space’s manager, Mike Clarke, and was built as an easier means of sign language translation. As most machines then used video data (resulting in delays in translation) or were just impractical to wear on a daily basis, SignAloud was meant to be the polar opposite. It’s light, can be worn like a pair of gloves, and most importantly, translates sign language data in real-time.
On top of helping those who are hard-of-hearing and rely on sign language to carry out their day-to-day tasks, Azodi and Pryor built the SignAloud for anybody who wants to learn American Sign Language. While it can’t turn spoken words into automatically controlled hand signals, it can definitely help with connecting hand gestures to form coherent sentences. Apart from this, the gloves can also be used in other fields; stroke patients can be monitored during rehabilitation and the gloves themselves can be used in various virtual reality applications.
Whatever it’s used for, you can bet the SignAloud will definitely help in connecting people who communicate in different ways.