Two University of Washington undergraduates have won a huge cash prize for their invention of gloves that translate sign language into text or speech, on the spot.
SignAloud wearable technology recognizes hand gestures that correspond to words and phrases in American Sign Language (ASL). Each glove contains sensors that record hand position and movement and send data wirelessly via Bluetooth to a central computer. The computer looks at the gesture data, and then the associated word or phrase is spoken through a speaker.
“Many of the sign language translation devices already out there are not practical for everyday use. Some use video input, while others have sensors that cover the user’s entire arm or body,” said Pryor, a researcher in the school’s Composite Structures Laboratory and the software lead for the Husky Robotics Team.
The duo met in the dorms during their freshman year and discovered they both had a passion for invention and problem solving. Azodi has technical experience as a systems intern at NASA. His long history of diverse volunteer work, including dozens of blood drives, provided motivation to build a device that would have real-world impact.
“Our gloves are lightweight, compact and worn on the hands, but ergonomic enough to use as an everyday accessory, similar to hearing aids or contact lenses,” said Pryor.
The MIT prize money will help Pryor and Azodi reach their first target audience– the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and those interested in learning and working with American Sign Language. But the gloves could also be commercialized for use in other fields, including medical technology to monitor stroke patients during rehabilitation, gesture control and enhanced dexterity in virtual reality.
“Our purpose for developing these gloves was to provide an easy-to-use bridge between native speakers of American Sign Language and the rest of the world,” Azodi said. “The idea initially came out of our shared interest in invention and problem solving. But coupling it with our belief that communication is a fundamental human right, we set out to make it more accessible to a larger audience.”