Friday, May 16, 2008

Glove converts sign language into speech

I read a tech article in Barron’s earlier this week in which some folks, recognized for their ability to see current trends and how they might evolve to meet future needs, made a list of their
Top 10 tech trends for the future.

In that list, there seems to be a general acknowledgement that the cell phone will continue to evolve into something much more complex and useful than its current incarnation. However, one possible application of the cell phone that wasn’t mentioned was a potential for it to act as the translator for a
Glove that converts sign language into sound.

The glove will allow somebody who communicates using sign language the ability to communicate with almost anybody and do so without the need for an interpreter. When it is completely developed, somebody who uses sign language will be able to wear this glove and sign as usual. Then, the programmed glove will recognize the fingers and hand positions and will then send the associated word or phrase to the user’s cell phone. The cell phone, running an off-the-shelf text-to-speech program, will then speak out the word or phrase.

The glove, a product of a team of graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University, is still undergoing refinement and is working on the learning curve. It knows only 32 words so far. Additionally, it seems like the team has taken some liberties and created some signs to work through the process, instead of using strictly ASL. However, of the 26 letters of the American Language alphabet, the glove has learned 15 of them.

Granted, it is not perfect, nor is it a completed, working model yet, but that latter outcome certainly seems like a given.

I believe the students’ hearts are definitely in the right place, integrating existing text messaging and text-to-speech applications with their vision. I hope they don’t catch any flak from deaf/hearing impaired purists for inventing a basic primitive language instead of striving to make it work with existing ASL. If they arise, I hope the critics aren’t too harsh, though, as innovation is where great projects begin.

This is just another embodiment of people thinking outside the conventional limitations to imagine what is possible, instead of resigning themselves to what is not.


Beth said...

This may work for one way communication from the Deaf person to the hearing person, but how will the hearing person respond so the Deaf person can understand?

Ron Graham said...

Great question and I’m not certain if the developers have pondered that one or not.

It seems to me that this tool is at least a method of allowing the Deaf person to initiate communication. The hearing person will then need to reply in another mutually comprehendable method, I guess, such as in writing.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but think it’s a good start in the right direction.