Two students from the University of Washington have designed gloves that translate...

Two students from the University of Washington have designed gloves that translate sign language

Photo by University of Washington

The brilliant invention, called “SignAloud”, is a pair of gloves designed to recognize hand gestures that correspond to words and phrases in American Sign Language and translate them into speech and text.

The gloves were developed by sophomores Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor, who are currently studying business administration and aeronautics and astronautics engineering, respectively, at the University of Washington. For their outstandingly inventive work, they have been awarded the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, that, besides the prestige, also comes with a $10,000 reward.

Curious how the gloves actually work? Jennifer Langston, writing for UW Today, explains that “each glove contains sensors that record hand position and movement and send data wirelessly via Bluetooth to a central computer”. The computer then analyzes the gesture data through various sequential statistical regressions, a process that resembles the workings of a neural network. If the recorded data match a gesture, then the associated word or phrase is spoken through a speaker.

As for the students, Pryor pointed out that “many of the sign language translation devices already out there are not practical for everyday use. Our gloves are lightweight, compact and worn on the hands, but ergonomic enough to use as an everyday accessory, similar to hearing aids or contact lenses”.

Azodi, on the other hand, gave some insight on what motivated them to invent such a device: “The idea initially came out of our shared interest in invention and problem solving. But coupling it with our belief that communication is a fundamental human right, we set out to make it more accessible to a larger audience.”