Sign language may be translated into English using wearable sensors, a high-tech device which is meant to ease communication between people who do not understand sign language and people who are deaf.
The wearable device that can sense muscle movement and interpret gestures is currently developed by engineers at the Texas A&M University in Texas, the United States.
It uses two different sensors, one that responds to the movement of the arm muscles, and one that responds to the movement of the wrist. The information is then converted by a program into an English translation.
Roozbeh Jafari, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University, said that previous devices have also attempted to translate sign language, but using camera-based or vision-based technology. According to Jafari, these devices were not satisfactory enough, since sometimes sign language is quite intricate – for instance people may use various finger movements combined with gestures.
Building a wearable device, and combining it with motion sensors that can detect muscle activity, was the idea that Jafari and his colleagues came up with.
The prototype system that the researchers built is able to recognise more common words that are normally used by people in everyday conversation. As the program starts growing, more words will be added by the engineers in order to build up the device’s vocabulary.
Currently, the prototype’s system has to be trained to respond to each person who is wearing it, since everyone has different muscle structures. The training process can take up to 30 minutes. Something that the scientists still have to work on is cutting down the training time of the device, or perhaps eliminate it for good.
Two graduate students managed to build the prototype device over a two week period. Jafari believes that the device will soon become a lot more advanced.
An innovative user interface may also be developed by the scientist with the help of wearable sensors.
“We need to have a new user interface (UI) and a UI modality that helps us to communicate with these devices. Devices like [the wearable sensor] might help us to get there,” Jafari stated.
The device was presented June at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 12th Annual Body Sensor Networks Conference.
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