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Gloves That Do the Talking By Translating ASL to Speech

Gloves That Do the Talking By Translating ASL to Speech

Taking the notion of talking with your hands to a whole new level is a pair of gloves that can translate sign language into speech. A team of Ukrainian students, QuadSquad, developed the gloves, EnableTalk, and have placed among the six finalists in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup in Sydney.

Noting that there are about 40 million deaf, mute and deaf-mute people, Tech Crunch describes how the gloves could help someone who does not understand sign language still communicate with someone who relies on it:

Using gloves fitted with flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers (as well as some solar cells to increase battery life) the EnableTalk team has built a system that can translate sign language into text and then into spoken words using a text-to-speech engine. The whole system then connects to a smartphone over Bluetooth.

Interactions with hearing-impaired athletes gave the team the idea to develop the gloves, which have been tested with sign language users in the Ukraine.

Sign languages varies around the world and from region to region and users can actually “teach the system new gestures and modify those that the team plans to ship in a library of standard gestures.”

EnableTalk‘s creators says that hardware for its prototypes cost only about $75. If they could be made for anything near that price, they would be within reach of families, therapists and schools.

I was quite intrigued to think of how these gloves might be used and not only for individuals with hearing impairmentsMy son Charlie‘s diagnosis is autism and his hearing (as far as we can tell) is fine. He has a severe speech and communication disability and, until a few years ago, was unable to produce many sounds. When he was a toddler and just learning to control the muscles and movements of his mouth, tongue and lips, he could say only say a few sounds (at one point, all he said was “dah”).

One of his first speech therapists taught him some sign language, so he could ask for things like crackers or chips. The result was a visible reduction in his frustration level. Charlie also had fine and gross motor delays and could not control his fingers and hands to form the official American Sign Language signs. So his therapist created simplified signs for him to use. As the EnableTalk gloves can be taught new gestures, it seems they could be adapted in many ways.

The advantage of teaching Charlie (whose speech is still very minimal) to communicate using signs while young was that he learned very early in his life that he could communicate in other ways than screaming or grabbing.

Charlie does not use sign language anymore. But I remain curious to learn of new ways to help kids and others like him communicate: Not being able to speak or to speak too much ought not to be a barrier to communicating.

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21 comments

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6:43AM PDT on Jul 31, 2013

The terms mute and deaf-mute are highly offensive and have not been the accepted vernacular for quite some time. It seems this product has been created without any regard to Deaf culture. While this is a very innovative and interesting product, there needs to be a lot more education about Deaf culture.

4:17PM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

American Sign Language and other signed languages are not limited to movements of the hands and arms. What the gloves do not take into consideration is that the modifiers and grammatical markers are done on the face; the subtle eye gaze movements, head tilts, shoulder movements, etc. that all have meaning. ASL is not dying as Emma has stated. Most of her friends are most likely Hard of Hearing. Most Deaf individuals can lip-read SOME words; however, not to the extent that you can carry on a long and in-depth conversation.

I have been an American Sign Language interpreter for 45 years. I have studied and used the language for a very long time.

The gloves may be helpful in emergency situations until a certified interpreter can be present. Not as a replacement, due to the fact there are wide variances of how regions and individuals use the language. There is not a one sign equals one English word correlation between the languages.

9:45PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

This sounds amazing. I'd love to hear what the deaf/mute community thinks of it.

12:09PM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

A good invention for those who are mute. Most deaf people can speak intelligibly on their own, but would be useful for those few who can't.

5:59PM PDT on Jul 14, 2012

Wow. This sounds good.

9:51AM PDT on Jul 13, 2012

This is great for those who don't know sign language. I think most deaf people are able to read lips so you can talk back to them. (in answer to Brittany's question). Hopefully they will be priced reasonably so they will be accessable to those with limited incomes.

4:55PM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

Although I have hearing, sight, and speech, I began learning fingerspelling as a child, which made it easier to learn more signs throughout my life. I have found it to be greatly enriching, and it has helped me bridge communication with many children and the Spanish speakers in my neighborhood.

4:15PM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

What a great idea! Thanks for the article.

4:35PM PDT on Jul 10, 2012

Fun idea -perhaps good for emergencies? I hate to see the death of a language -ASL seems to be less and less prominent in the deaf community (what little I know of it).

10:35AM PDT on Jul 10, 2012

I have several deaf friends. All are very adept at reading lips. After communicating with them for a very short time they can understand you and you can more easily understand them.

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