American Sign Language (ASL) has been incredibly important to the 1 million people in the US who are functionally deaf, as it allows for effective and natural communication. Without the use of an interpreter, however, it can be difficult for those in the deaf community to speak with those who are not deaf. A new invention may change all that by automatically translating ASL into spoken words.
SignAloud was invented by undergraduate students Thomas Pryor and Navid Azodi of the University of Washington. Specially-designed gloves that have a series of motion sensors are able to understand when the wearer makes ASL signs and wirelessly sends them to a computer that recognizes the movement and plays the corresponding word through a speaker.
The idea behind this technology isn't new; there are other versions that involve a series of sensors connected up and down the arm. Because they are a lot more cumbersome, they aren't very practical for the ordinary person to use every day. Additionally, they aren't available to buy commercially, so the number of people who have access to this technology is extremely limited.
Conrad Tapato / University of Washington / Comotion
This is where SignAloud stands apart: the gloves have a computer at the wrist. There are no sticky sensors to worry about applying properly. The gloves are also slim enough that they don't interfere with normal activities.
Not only could this make it easier for those who are deaf or mute to communicate in their everyday life, it could be critical when they are traveling. There is no universal sign language, even among other English-speaking countries. If the gloves can translate ASL into spoken word, they will be able to communicate wherever they go.
Pryor and Azodi won the 2016 Lemelson-MIT Prize, which is awarded to student inventors. They received a $10,000 award.
Check out the video to see how the technology works and learn more here: