There are some 40 million deaf and/or mute people in the world and while most use sign language to communicate most other people don't understand it. But now a group of three computer programmers and one designer from the Computer Academy in the Ukraine has developed a way for those voices to be heard. Tech Crunch
says a pair of gloves called Enable Talk
has been fitted with flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers to translate hand signs into text and then into spoken words using text-to-speech software. They are also fitted with solar cells to extend battery life. The group calling themselves QuadSquad
say they came up with the idea after trying to interact with hearing impaired athletes at their school. One remarkable element of the system is that users can teach it new gestures and modify a library of standard gestures that the team plans to supply with the gloves. That's especially important because there is the huge variation among sign languages around the world, including regional dialects just like spoken languages.
QuadSquad won the prestigious software design award at Microsoft's Imagine Cup
in Sydney, Australia today. But because the competition is sponsored by Microsoft they built it using the Windows Mobile technology, the predecessor to the Windows phone and which has now been discontinued.
The $25,000 first prize will be important seed money for them to continue development and get the gloves on the market. They have put together a marketing plan
and say the current base price of $50 for the device will drop to about $20 with further development and once they begin production. They plan to charge about $400 for two devices.
The team isn't the first to come up with the idea. In January The Atlantic
reported a team of four presented a similar prototype at a Google developers event in Tel Aviv using the Android app but which only translates to text. And other projects are not as elaborate including one created by students at Cornell University in the US and featured by Mobile Magazine
in May. The other gloves under development cost around $1200 but have fewer sensors, use wired connections and don't come with the software to teach the system new gestures.
Information about the other winners at the Imagine Cup can be found on the press release
and on the competition website