BACKGROUND: A Washington University researcher has developed a glove that can convert American Sign Language into electronic text and speech using gesture-recognition technology. Letter by letter or by whole gesture, users can sign more than 200 words stored in the Acceleglove's dictionary. This could help the deaf communicate more easily with the hearing world, for example. The glove can also be modified for use as a virtual reality game tool, or for military applications. Its first practical application is as an interactive computer game tool to help deaf children learn English language spelling, or for hearing children to learn sign language.
HOW IT WORKS: Sensors (called accelerometers) on each finger of the glove, and other sensors fixed to the elbow and shoulder, generate electrical signals from the movement and position of the hand and fingers in relation to the body. These signals are analyzed by a microcontroller to find the correct word associated with that particular hand movement. The various signs are recognized by the differences in the beginning hand shapes, intervening movements, and ending hand shapes. Once the glove recognizes the beginning hand position, it can safely eliminate all the phrases in the database whose beginnings don't match. As the intervening movement progresses, more phrases are eliminated. When the end phrase is formed, only a single match remains. To keep the translator from incorrectly interpreting the move from a relaxed state with the hands down at the side to the signing position, and vice versa, the system begins processing the data from the movement of the glove only after the signer makes the ASL gesture meaning "start sentence." The "end sentence" gesture deactivates the system. The glove is placed on the hand and strapped to the arm. The entire process takes milliseconds from the time the sign is made to recognition of the sign and the computer output.
ABOUT ASL: Every country has its sign language, each with a distinctive developmental history. American Sign Language has roots in Europe. An early precursor to ASL was developed in the 18th century in France by Charles-Michel de l'ıpıe. In the U.S., a small island off the Massachusetts coast called Martha's Vineyard was a kind of "deaf utopia": so many residents were born deaf -- thanks to generations of inter-marriage -- that they developed their own sign language, which later merged with signing languages on the mainland to form modern ASL. Today, it is estimated that between 500,000 to 2,000,000 people in the U.S. use ASL.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.