New Smart Glove in Development to Turn Hand Motions into Sound and Text

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Hearing- and speech-challenged people could have a new device to aid them with their communications hurdles at the end of this year or the beginning of 2018. Start-up company BrightSign has developed a “smart glove” that includes a series of sensors to translate hand motions into sound and text. There is a significant need for such a device, says Hadeel Ayoub, BrightSign’s founder, pointing out that there are 70 million sign language users globally, 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents and only 25% of parents of deaf children use sign language.

Ayoub developed the idea for the smart glove while working on her Ph.D. in computational arts at Goldsmiths College at the University of London (after initially starting on a virtual painting glove). The actual hardware came while participating in an IBM hackathon, she says. Once the initial prototype was developed, word spread quickly to the hearing- and speech-challenged community, she says.

Right now, those people have only traditional sign language or expensive software and tablets/laptops/computers that will translate sounds and hand motions into text. But there isn’t a stand-alone hardware solution like the smart glove, Ayoub explains.

The device needed to be customizable because sign language, Ayoub says is different in the U.S., Britain, France, and in other countries. Additionally, some hearing and speech-challenged people have limited motor skills, so they cannot sign in the traditional way, and there are elderly people who have lost speech or hearing capabilities due to a stroke or other age-related concerns and want to be able to communicate without going through traditional sign language training. People in both of these groups need a device that enables them to customize what different hand motions mean, Ayoub explains, not the static, unchangeable translations used by existing gloves designed for the speech- and hearing-challenged.

The smart glove itself is relatively thin so that it can be worn under a thicker glove (which BrightSign will also sell). A lighter version of the smart glove can send spoken translations directly to the wearer’s smartphone.

Though a price point for the device has yet to be finalized, Ayoub expects it to be far less expensive than the non-customizable smart gloves on the market today. The commercial production of the smart glove is still at least six months away, Ayoub says, though she already has about 700 pre-orders.

Ayoub opened the funding round for her company in late April with the ultimate goal of 1 million pounds (or about $1.35 million), an amount she says would enable her to handle the manufacturing, distribution and other facets of the business in house. If she raises at least 250,000 GBP ($340,000), she will be able to outsource manufacturing and other aspects of the business.

“I would love to do everything myself,” Ayoub says. “But it’s not about me. It’s about the fact that it is possible to get this to the people who need it. Whatever fulfills that is the way I am going to go.”

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