Over 30 million people around the globe have speech impairments and have to rely on sign language as a means of communication. And since sign language is not as universal as it should be, this effectively creates a communication barrier for them.
Roy Allela's niece was born deaf and she found it extremely difficult to communicate with her family, none of whom knew sign language. So the 25-year-old decided to do something about it.
Roy, a microprocessor engineer, created smart gloves that convert sign language hand movements into audio speech. The smart gloves – dubbed Sign-IO – have flex sensors that are placed on each finger and have the capacity to quantify the bend of a finger and process the letter being signed. Using Bluetooth, the gloves are connected to a mobile application, that Roy also developed, which then converts the sign into audio speech.
Roy said the speed at which the signs are vocalized is one of the most important aspects of the smart gloves:
"My 6-year-old niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying.
People speak at different speeds and it’s the same with people who sign – some are really fast, others are slow, so we integrated that into the mobile application so that it’s comfortable for anyone to use it."
Through the app, users are able to set the language, gender and pitch of the audio voice, with accuracy results averaging 93 percent.
"It fights the stigma associated with being deaf and having a speech impediment. If the gloves look cool, every kid will want to know why you have them on."
Roy’s innovation recently won the Hardware Trailblazer award from the prestigious American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) during its 2017 ASME Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) competition. Roy says he is using the prize money from the award to make more accurate vocal predictions.