A team of Ukrainian students have developed a prototype for a pair of smart gloves, complete with sensors which have the ability to vocalise sign language gestures, providing an exciting new means of communication for people with hearing impairments or speech difficulties.
The team of students found their inspiration for the smart gloves in college, when they noticed that some of the deaf and hearing-impaired students were experiencing difficulties in communicating with the hearing students, causing them to become socially excluded. Within a year, their prototype had won them the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a prestigious software design prize, as well as the $25,000 prize-money that would allow them to launch their own company – EnableTalk – and develop the product on a wider commercial scale, sparking global interest.
The smart gloves work via a series of flex sensors sewn into the fingers, which measure the degree of bending. A compass, gyroscope and other tools log the hand’s movement through the air. Once recorded, this data is processed and sent to a mobile phone via Bluetooth, which translates the physical positioning of the hand and the movements of the fingers into vocalised speech. The retail price is set to open at $250 for one glove and $400 for two, though EnableTalk does not foresee any shortage of interest.
The gloves are currently still under development, and whilst the prototype could only recognise a small number of signs, such as ‘nice to meet you’, EnableTalk hope to improve the product drastically, by working with deaf and hearing-impaired students to build up the gloves’ recognised sign database. Other improvements will include the speeding-up of the processing system, minimising the time taken to process the signer’s movements, as well as improving the recognition systems to improve the gloves’ accuracy, which currently stands at 90 per cent.
The smart glove represents a bold step forward for the deaf and hearing-impaired, providing a new way for the hearing and hearing-impaired to communicate more easily. Since the smart gloves were first introduced to the public, they have largely been met positively. There are some, however, who have questioned whether this is the right approach to take. The issue is clear, and valid at that: whilst it is no doubt important to improve communication methods for the hearing-impaired and for people with speech difficulties, we must not forget that communication is a two-way process, and that it is equally important for hearing people to make the effort to understand the hearing impaired, rather than the other way round.
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