Meet the inventors whose gloves translate sign language

A couple of undergraduates have come up with a wearable piece of tech that converts sign language into text and speech.

Inventors Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor, both from the University of Washington, Seattle, have developed a sensor-laden pair of gloves called SignAloud. The gloves pick up hand position and movement, and send this data to a computer via Bluetooth, which then turns it into text and spoken word.

“We wanted to develop something that would help the deaf and mute better communicate with the rest of the world, without changing how they already interact with each other,” explains Azodi. “By simply putting on a pair of gloves, those who utlise American sign language can now communicate with the rest of the world the same way they communicate with each other.”

The SignAloud is one of seven inventions to have won 2016’s prestigious Lemelson-MIT Prize. However, its creators have faced criticism about misunderstanding the deaf community and its desire for understanding. Certainly, while well intentioned, the idea of taking vocal communication as the logical endpoint lacks a degree of nuance in terms of deaf identity. As the gloves only translate sign language into sound, and not the other way round, there’s the risk that the technology will treat communication between deaf and hearing users as a one-way street.

That said, the gloves seem to be an excellent starting point for making communication between deaf and non-deaf people easier. Other winners of the Lemelson-MIT Prize include a way to help those with autism pick up on facial expressions using Google Glass, and a completely automated restaurant.

That idea didn’t work out so well in China, after robot waiters in several different restaurants were fired for being rubbish at their jobs.

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