Technology makes life easier for everyone. From e-mails that enable instant communication to artificial intelligence that automates current processes, the fourth industrial revolution promises to create a more connected and immediate world. However, there are people that, owing to mobility or cognitive impairments, face even larger obstacles. Here, technology can help them to face those problems or even overcome them. Like 3D-printed prostheses have already proved, technological progress can simplify and lower the price of the currently available solutions. Following such logic, Roy Allela, a technologist in his twenties, has devised a system that could become a real breakthrough in the communication of the deaf-mute. His approach is simple but efficient: a glove that interprets the gestures of the user and translates them into signals that are relayed to a smartphone via Bluetooth. There, a customized software converts them into speech with a 93% efficiency.
The glove features sensors that detect the movement of each finger, but the key to this technological invention is the versatility of the smartphone’s software. Throughout the development of his device, Allela noticed the importance of adapting the system to the speed of the speaker’s sign language, which can vary considerably depending on the user. Other features of the app include the gender of the speaker, the pitch of their voice and the target language. Finally, the design of the glove has also been considered. Many of its users will be kids, so the inventor of this technological project has created a range of models, from a princess glove to a Spider one, aiming to dispel the stigma attached to this disability.
Allela has both developed the software and hardware of the system, which has earned him the pioneering technology award bestowed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
From the tactile age to the gesture age
When tactile screens first appeared in the market, there was a true paradigm-shift in human-machine communication. A new interface, however, is currently being developed to do away with touch altogether. Technologies such as Kinect, developed by Microsoft for its Xbox console, had already explored the possibilities afforded by gesture recognition through image mapping. Now, Google has taken the baton in the research of communication with machines through gestures, although with a different approach. The first steps were taken in 2015 when a project codenamed Soli was first presented. The system comprised a set of miniaturized radars able to interpret hand gestures without the need for physical contact with the screen. Besides smartphones, the idea could also be implemented in TV sets and vehicles.
The main obstacle for the launch of Soli had so far been the type of frequencies used by its radars, which could interfere with civil and military devices. Fortunately, this technological innovation has given a further step towards its commercialization with the approval granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the USA. Now, the last stage will be the assignation of its operating frequencies. It looks like very soon the smudged fingerprints on our smartphone screens will be a thing of the past