If one can train a cat how to sign, definitely one can convert sign into words. Two undergraduate students, after all, have achieved such feat.
University of Washington undergraduates Thomas Pryor and Navid Azodi beat more than 70 colleges and universities in the 2016 Lemelson-MIT Use It undergraduate category, with their group getting $10,000, for inventing a device that can translate sign language into words.
Called SignAloud, it is composed of two gloves that are equipped with built-in sensors whose job is to recognize the hand gestures or movements and deliver the data wirelessly to a computer.
The computer, meanwhile, has already been designed to store, analyze, and determine correctly the sent hand gesture data. Once the information has been received, the computer's algorithm searches for the right match and the corresponding word is delivered through the speaker.
Here's a video demonstration:
Although there are already existing sign-to-speech devices and prototypes on the market, Pryor, who is enrolled as an astronautics and aeronautics engineer, believes theirs has an edge because of its user-friendly design.
"Our gloves are lightweight, compact and worn on the hands, but ergonomic enough as an everyday accessory," he said.
This means that the consumer device can be easily be brought and set up practically anywhere.
The invention isn't a spur of the moment as both students have always been interested in creating things and problem solving. Moreover, their educational and technological backgrounds seem to have prepared the duo for winning.
Pryor used to work for Boeing as an onboard network systems and cybersecurity intern and holds a certification as a ham radio technician. Azodi, a Business Administration student, was an Apple campus representative, executive officer for DubHacks, and systems intern for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
However, it was comprehensive volunteer experience that could have inspired them to create the device, which Azodi hopes to serve as a bridge between American Sign Language and the rest of the world.
While the device is initially intended for the community of hard of hearing, it may be modified to open more opportunities in the field of virtual reality and health care such as stroke monitoring and patient rehabilitation.