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Automating Sign Language Translation

Ergonomic, sensor-embedded gloves turn sign language into spoken word in real-time.

Sign language is used by millions of people around the world. It’s quite common to see sign language interpreters in court or at major presentations, but there can still be language barriers between deaf or hearing-impaired people and the speaking community in daily life.

As Medical Daily reports, there have been technologies in the past that translate between sign and spoken languages, but many have had drawbacks in terms of speed and ease of use in daily communication.

Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor, two undergrads at the University of Washington, created “SignAloud,” a glove that can translate American Sign Language (ASL) from the wearer into spoken English. The glove is embedded with sensors that recognize ASL words and phrases, which are sent via Bluetooth to a voice synthesizer that speaks them aloud.

Not only is the translation fast, but the gloves are lightweight and have a pretty low profile (thinner than a heavy snow glove). They’re intended to be worn every day, only extending up to the wrist, as opposed to other devices that encompass the entire arm. At this point, the communication is one-way, meaning that the device allows an ASL speaker to talk to a non-ASL speaker in English, but it does not translate spoken word back to ASL.

The invention was recently awarded the $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize so the students can develop the technology further.


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