This smart glove translates sign language in real-time
With technology getting more impressive, language barriers are becoming less of a hindrance. However, translators that work with spoken or written languages leave out the language of between 100,000 to one million deaf people in the United States alone -American Sign Language (ASL).
Researchers from UCLA want to fix that. They recently developed a high-tech smart glove that is capable of translating sign language into written and spoken words in real time. Their system promises almost 99 percent accuracy. It could be a game-changer for helping ASL users communicate with people who don’t know sign language.
Bridging the Gap
The concept of translating sign language isn’t new. However, previous attempts at making it a reality have been bulky, uncomfortable, or too expensive to be practical. The UCLA team was able to successfully design a prototype that costs just $50 to make. They note that the price could drop even further with a large-scale production effort. Better yet, it’s mostly condensed into a small glove.
Lead researcher Jun Chen says, “Our hope is that this opens up an easy way for people who use sign language to communicate directly with non-signers without needing someone else to translate for them.”
The wearable device consists of stretchable sensors that run up the back of each finger made of electric-sensing yarn. As the user signs, the signals are transmitted to a small, round circuit board on the back of the glove. It then sends wireless signals to a smartphone where an app converts them to text.
Small adhesive sensors are attached to the user’s face to capture certain facial expressions which are also part of ASL. Unfortunately, that detracts somewhat from the glove’s otherwise unobtrusive nature.
Regardless, researchers say that the system is able to translate up to a word per second (60 words per minute). The tech could potentially allow deaf people to communicate directly with anyone without needing to have a translator.
Necessary or Not?
While the smart glove is certainly a technical breakthrough, it has been criticized by some people in the deaf community. Gabrielle Hodge, a post-doctoral researcher from the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL) at University College London says, “The tech is redundant because deaf signers already make extensive use of text-to-speech or text translation software on their phones, or simply write with pen and paper, or even gesture clearly.”
Hodge makes a strong point. There are plenty of solutions today that help deaf people communicate with others who don’t know sign language. However, that doesn’t mean that the tech world can’t make a difference.
“It would be so much easier if tech focused on user-driven and user-centered design in the first instance, rather than dreaming up ‘solutions’ they think will fix all the problems in the world,” says Hodge.
Indeed, that sort of awareness is something for the wider tech space to continue working on.
While the ASL-translating glove may be slightly redundant, the researchers also think it could be useful as a teaching tool.
“We hope it can help more people learn sign language themselves,” Chen says.
Originally published at https://www.theburnin.com on July 2, 2020.