Student Team Produces Sign Language-to-Speech Device

The winners of the 2012 Imagine Cup by Microsoft have been announced. The cup is an annual student technology competition that invites eligible candidates to conjure solutions that address each year’s particular theme. This year’s theme:

Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems.

A three-man Ukrainian team took on this theme in full force. Their winning Software Design project allows deaf individuals to communicate verbally using sensory gloves and a smartphone app, which translates sign gestures into audible speech. The device is called Enable Talk, and uses 15 flex sensors and a microcontroller that constantly recognize sign language patterns. The device then uses three Microsoft products Windows Phone, Microsoft Speech API, and Bing API to translate the signs into audio.

And you thought Windows products were only good for making spreadsheets.

Enable Talk’s official description of the hardware reads: “We’ve developed the model of gloves that includes a modern microcontroller, 15 flex sensors, accelerometer, gyroscope, and a compass in order to define the position of the glove in space, a Bluetooth module for data transmission from the gloves to a mobile device and a USB-port for the synchronization with the PC and for charging the Li-ion battery that provides power.”

This is fascinating, world-changing work. In Enable Talk’s abstract, it imagines a world where speech-disabled people need only a smartphone to communicate quickly and easily with just about anyone. And with the tentative price tag, their vision certainly seems possible. A FastCompany article points out the device’s price tag is incredibly reasonable at only $50 which is a major departure from the team’s Android-compatible version that debuted at a Google developer event earlier this year. The Android version cost $1,200 and did not include the software necessary for the sign language-to-speech translation.
What accounts for the dramatic price decrease and software integration? Was it the Windows technology that gave them the magic ingredient? The team also points out that if the technology made it to the mass market, the price could go down even further, possibly to around $20.

For the price of a smartphone (which sinks lower every year) and gloved peripheral, The Ukrainian three-man show quadSquad hopes to put the ability to communicate effectively in the hands of anyone with a speech impairment. Technology is working here to provide a basic human need; the need to be heard and understood. Cheers to the 2012 Imagine Cup Ukrainian winners!