Over 30 million people use sign language to communicate, but only a fraction of the world’s population can understand them—until now.
Kenyan inventor Roy Allela has designed a pair of gloves that translate signed hand movements into speech. Called Sign-IO, it relies on sensors that are stitched into each finger which can detect the movement and positions of hands, and interpret them into the words being signed. The gloves connect via Bluetooth to a phone app, also designed by Allela, which converts the gestures into audible speech.
Allela got the inspiration for his invention from watching his family’s struggle to communicate with his six-year-old niece, who was born deaf. “My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” says Allela. “Like all sign language users, she’s very good at lip reading, so she doesn’t need me to sign back.”
But these gloves also double as a tool to teach non-signers because the visual and audible work in concert together. Both the gloves and the app are adjustable to different users’ needs, from speed of movement of the hands, to different pitches and tones of voice in the electronic speech of the app.
Allella first launched his talking gloves in 2018, at a special-needs school in southwest Kenya, and he hopes to make them available to as many children as possible worldwide.
Sign-IO is just one of a growing number of assistive technology devices for people with impairments and limitations. The market, which is expected to top $30 billion dollars by 2024, is exploding as people find new ways to break down communication barriers and overcome obstacles via technology. And breaking down communication barriers of every kind is a positive game changer for everyone.
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