Most hearing people can’t understand sign language. A team of students from the Ukraine built a set of electronic gloves to help bridge that gap. A set of sensors in these gloves, including an accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and flex sensors in the fingers, translate movement into signals that a computer converts into speech.
The person wearing the gloves draws a shape in the air. That information is transmitted them via Bluetooth to a smartphone, which matches the shape up against a set stored in memory. A match produces a sound. For example, waving one’s hands in one pattern produces “nice to meet you” and another pattern produces “system really works.”
The gloves were designed by Pasternikov Anton, Osika Maksim, Yasakov Valeriy and Stepanov Anton, students at the Donetsk branch of the “Step” Computer Academy. The project, called EnableTalk, was a winner of the software design category at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup contest, where students from around the world showcase technology projects.
There are some limitations. One is that the gestures stored in the computer are not yet sign language. Sign language is as complex as any other language, and American Sign Language differs from its French or German counterpart. So far, the system can only read a dozen or so movements.
Another challenge will be durability and usefulness. Most people, deaf or not, don’t walk around wearing gloves all the time, and the problem is multiplied when one considers jobs that require using hands (a bus driver or typist, for instance).
However, the technology is still new. The next steps will be streamlining it and finding a way to enable simultaneous translation, along with expanding the system’s gestural “vocabulary.” Maksim told the BBC that the group is trying to build a truly practical system, though he isn’t sure when it would be ready.