A Kenyan inventor, Roy Allela, was inspired by his deaf niece to create Sign-IO, a glove that interprets sign language into speech and that has been short-listed for this year’s Africa Prize for Engineering.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 400 million people worldwide suffer from a variety of hearing and speech impediments.
Many of these people use sign language to communicate with those around them. However, the difficulties lie in the fact that the greater public, with perfect hearing, are unable to understand sign language.
A Kenyan software engineer and Intel programme manager, Allela recognised this problem when trying to communicate with his deaf niece.
He was able to communicate with her because, like most sign-language users, she is capable of reading lips, but he was unable to understand when she was trying to communicate with him.
This spurred Allela on to invent Sign-IO.
Sign-IO is a smart glove that reads the hand movements used in sign language and converts them into audio speech in real time. Allela says the aim of the glove is to assist those with a hearing and speech impediment communicate with people around them.
The glove is made up of sensors that are stitched into each finger.
The sensors pick up the finger movements of the signer, transmit the information via Bluetooth to a smartphone, and then vocalise the words being signed in real time with an accuracy of 93%.
One of the features integrated into the glove is that it allows people to speak as quickly or as slowly as they like, helping those who are either just learning to sign or those who have been doing it for years.
The application allows users to change the gender, language and pitch of the audio voice.
Allela tested his project at a special-needs school in the rural area of Migori County, Kenya. His dream is to see the Sign-IO glove in all special-needs schools across Kenya.
For his work, Allela won the Hardware Trailblazer award at the US Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase competition.
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