Over the years, we’ve seen a number of experimental “smart” gloves that convert their deaf wearer’s hand gestures into text and/or audible speech. The aptly named Sign Language Translation Glove, however, is claimed to be the first mass-produced product to do so.
Manufactured by China’s Wulala Technology Company, the glove is worn on the user’s right hand, and is paired via Bluetooth to an accompanying subscription-based app on their smartphone. It incorporates two-way bending sensors in each finger, along with an IMU (inertial measurement unit) in the palm – the sensors track the pose of the fingers, while the IMU tracks the movement and position of the glove in three-dimensional space.
Deaf users start with the gloved hand hanging down at their side, then form a fist to activate the device. Once it buzzes to let them know it’s ready, they then raise their hand and perform the movements necessary to convey their message in a recognized form of sign language. They drop their hand again once the message is complete, simultaneously bending their fingers and straightening their thumb to let the glove know they’re done. It buzzes again, confirming that it understands.
Their message is subsequently relayed through the app in the form of both onscreen text and synthetic speech. After seeing and listening to that message, a hearing person can then speak their response into the phone’s mic. That response will be displayed both as text and as sign language performed by an animated avatar, allowing the deaf user to understand it.
As an added bonus, plans call for the system to eventually be capable of bridging the communication gap between people who speak or sign different languages. If the glove wearer were to sign a question in German Sign Language, for instance, the app could conceivably translate that question into English speech and text. When the other (hearing) person verbally responded in English, their response could be translated to German text and animated German Sign Language.
The glove itself is washable, as its main electronics module is removable. One 90-minute charge of its battery is claimed to be good for at least eight hours of use.
According to Wulala, the technology is already in use in parts of China, and has a 95-percent accuracy rate at recognizing “8,000-plus” Chinese Sign Language terms. The company is now working on additional databases that will allow the app to understand spoken and signed languages such as English, Russian, French, Japanese and German.
Should you be interested, the Sign Language Translation Glove is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. Assuming everything works out, a pledge of €595 (about US$704) will get you one. The planned retail price is $3,000.