Over 40 million people use sign language instead of speech due to hearing and speech impairments. Imagine if these people could communicate with non-signers using magic talking gloves…
Enable Talk is aiming to achieve just this. Sensor covered gloves send signals to a smart phone and hey presto, your hands are talking! The student project is still a work in progress for the Ukrainian team behind it, QuadSquad, who have tested various prototypes on sign language users in the Ukraine.
How they work:
The gloves are covered in 15 flex sensors that can detect flexing and bending movements of the fingers. The position of the gloves relative to space are recognised by accelerometers and gyroscopes: spinning disks in which the axles are not in a fixed orientation, so are able to measure the orientation of the gloves. A micro-controller on the back of the glove registers the hand movements, and transmits the patterns to a smart phone via Bluetooth. The Enable Talk app reads and translates the patterns, matching them with its library of signs to produce a text version of the sign language. Finally, the text is spoken using a Speech Application Programming Interface – put simply, a programme that allows the use of speech recognition and text-to-speech in apps .
The video below shows Enable Talk’s presentation at the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition 2012, in which the they won first place. The demonstration gets going about a minute in.
As the product is still in its testing phases, there are only a handful of signs the app can translate (e.g. nice to meet you, and we want to see kangaroo as a nod to Imagine Cup 2012 host city, Sydney). However, co-creator Maxim Osika assures that they are working on augmenting the number of standard signs available in the app’s library, and that there will even be an unlimited capacity for the user to upload as many signs as they want to their own personal library. This should accommodate dialect and regional variations of signs.
Some have criticised the team, stating that it should be up to hearing people to make more of an effort to communicate with those who are deaf. Personally, I agree; as far as I know, BSL (British Sign Language ) isn’t given half as much attention in schools as foreign languages. This is an obvious criticism of the project, yet there are one or two political correctness blunders that could have been avoided in the video above, and which can’t have improved opinions on Enable Talk’s view of deaf/hearing communication.
Nevertheless, all this shouldn’t detract from the project’s cutting-edge initiative.
QuadSquad have said they hope to have the gloves finished and available on the market “around 2014”  …hopefully with more appropriate marketing.
1. Enable Talk
2. Microsoft Imagine Cup – www.imaginecup.com
3. Forbes – The Amazing Digital Gloves That Give Voice To The Voiceless