The glove that translates sign language into English - Dispatch Weekly

July 17, 2017 - Reading time: 4 minutes

In a major development for the deaf community, a new glove has been developed at the University of California, San Diego, that can convert 26 letters of the American Sign Language alphabet into text on smartphones or computer screens.

For the deaf community, this is a major win. This glove is not only cheaper and more portable than other automatic sign language translators, but it is also considerably more flexible and wearable than previous attempts.

“For thousands of people in the UK, sign language is their first language,” says Jesal Vishnuram, the technology research manager at the charity Action on Hearing Loss.

“Many have little or no written English. Technology like this will completely change their lives.”

In the UK, deaf citizens are entitled to an interpreter at work or in hospitals, however, the glove will make it possible for the deaf community to make themselves understood to anyone in any situation.

This will not only simplify many situations where ASL speakers had to communicate with non ASL speakers, but it will help prevent alienation of the deaf community from the hearing community.

How it Worksasl-glove

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The gloves, which are standard sports gloves, have nine flexible strain sensors placed over the knuckles. When the user moves their fingers, the glove is able to recognise the movement as the sensors stretch, increasing the electrical resistance and sending a signal to software to work out configuration of the hand.

To help differentiate between letters which have the same finger movement, the glove has a motion sensor on the back of the glove which allows it to recognise when the hand is still or in motion. This means that when letters that require rotation of hands are spelled, the glove is able to differentiate them.

The signals the glove picks up are then sent, via Bluetooth, to an app, the app then displays what is said. Because of the flexible sensors, the glove is much more comfortable for the user to wear and they can be used without knowing they are being worn.

The device can currently only interpret letters, which is a major incapacitation to full conversations as it requires the user to spell out each word, work is currently underway to develop it into translating whole words and phrases as well.

Cameras Converting Signs

The glove has sparked some research into developing cameras that can convert sign language into English. Whilst this would certainly mean a major development, as in theory this tool would only require a smartphone, the idea has some limitations regarding the practicality.

Devices like these tend to use a lot of power and often work badly under low-light conditions. Moreover, a camera device would need distance from the person signing in order to be able to view and interpret the movements correctly, something that isn’t fully practical.

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.