IBM's New Avatar Talks to the Deaf
An estimated 55,000 people in the United Kingdom use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate, yet there are relatively few services and needs designed to accommodate them. With that in mind, IBM announced Friday the development of a new system, called SiSi (Say It Sign It), which automatically converts spoken text into BSL.
SiSi brings together a number of computer technologies. A speech-to-text module converts the spoken word into text, which SiSi then interprets into gestures that are used to animate an avatar that signs in BSL. The signing avatar pops up in the corner of a display screen—whether that be a laptop, personal computer, TV, meeting-room display, or auditorium screen. Users can select the size and appearance of the avatar.
The system was developed at IBM’s research facility in Hursley, England, as part of the company’s global student intern program Extreme Blue.
"IBM is committed to developing IT solutions that are inclusive and accessible to all members of society," Andy Stanford-Clark, master inventor at IBM Hursley, said in a recent press statement. "This technology has the potential to make life easier for the deaf community by providing automatic signing for television broadcasts, and making radio news and talk shows available to a new audience over the Internet, or by providing automated voicemail transcription to allow them to make better use of the mobile network."
This type of solution also has the potential to enable a person giving a presentation in business or education to have a digital sign language interpreter.
IBM has not disclosed how or when it intends to market the product, noting that SiSi’s application is not yet ready for a full commercial rollout. It can be easily translated to accommodate any country’s sign language.
Besides assisting the hearing impaired, the technology used by SiSi could conceivably be used in virtual reality environments or entertainment venues like video games.