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Hadeel Ayoub

Smart Gloves Translate Sign Language into Speech

These new gloves will revolutionize communication between the Deaf and the hearing communities by translating sign language into both text and audio speech forms.

| 2 min read

These new gloves will revolutionize communication between the Deaf and the hearing communities by translating sign language into both text and audio speech forms.

Google Translate can help us interpret 90 languages from around the world, including ones you’ve probably never heard of like Uzbek and Malagasy. But since we can’t type hand gestures into the translate box, there’s no easy way to communicate with the estimated 70 million people worldwide who use sign language as their mother tongue. Finally, a Saudi designer has created a device that will bridge the communication gap between the Deaf and the hearing community.

SignLanguageGlove is the brainchild of Hadeel Ayoub, a designer and media artist. In an interview with VICE’s Motherboard channel, Ayoub said her four-year-old autistic niece inspired her to come up with the idea of the smart gloves: “When I saw her communicating with sign language, I wondered what would happen if she tried to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak the same language.”

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Ayoub decided to take matters into her own hands and design something that would enable the hearing-impaired to communicate with everyone, not just those who understand sign language. The SignLanguageGlove is a wireless device that translates hand gestures into audible speech or written text.

The glove features five flex sensors on the fingers, allowing it to pick up on the user’s finger movements as a message is signed. An accelerometer also tracks the user’s hand orientation, and all of the data is then reported to a serial monitor. There have already been a few prototypes of the glove, each improving the design to be faster, lighter, and thinner. The most recent version contains the “text-to-speech” chip that vocalizes the words as they’re signed.

Next up is the pursuit to create a mobile app so that the gloves can wirelessly send text messages and emails the instant after a user signs them. Ayoub already designed a computer program which displays signed words on a monitor screen, but she hopes to spread the idea to smartphones and tablets as well. As a speaker of French, English, and Arabic, Ayoub also hopes to incorporate multilingual features into the smart glove.

"I had one mission when I started this project and it was to facilitate communication between all kinds of disabilities, eliminating barriers between people who have a visual, hearing, or speech impairment,” Ayoub said in a press release. “Once I've incorporated Wi-Fi and translation features into it the glove will be useful for all - no exclusions as to who the user can reach, wherever, whoever, from any country at any time."

While technology is often criticized for taking away the value of face-to-face communication, it has the ability to transform the exchange of conversation and ideas in other spheres of human interaction. Education reformists often argue that the cure for cancer could be hidden in the brain of someone without access to proper education, so couldn’t the same hold true for someone without the ability to communicate their thoughts?

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