Interpreting sign language is just the beginning for the AcceleGlove open source dataglove
July 23, 2009
After years in the making, the AcceleGlove open source data glove is now available for purchase from Anthrotronix. Originally designed for use as an automated American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, the AcceleGlove can be used for a host of other applications. Thanks to the open source Software Development Kit (SDK) provided with the glove, developers and hobbyists alike can adapt the glove for use in assistive technology, rehabilitation, robotics, video gaming, virtual reality or a computing input device to name a few.
How does the AcceleGlove work?
The glove is fitted with six accelerometers (five behind the finger and thumb tips and one on the back of the hand). Each accelerometer is responsive to movements in three axes and sensitive to accelerations as small as 0.0287 m/s2 (1/340th of a g). The sensors produce analog signals which are then sent to the PC via a USB connection where the software then analyzes the signals and records movement. The success of this device is as much to do with the sophisticated analysis software as it is with its robust and reliable hardware.
Once the instrumented glove captures finger and hand movement, the software recognizes patterns as sign language or other user defined commands. These gestures can be converted in real time to written text or spoken words allowing deaf users to communicate with hearing individuals.
The AcceleGlove project was the subject of a thesis by doctoral student José-Luis Hernández-Rebollar submitted in 2003. He saw the glove as an important communication bridge over the gap between deaf people and the wider community:
“Currently, the only method by which a deaf person can communicate using ASL directly with a person who does not understand it is through a sign language interpreter, a specialist who may be difficult to find, schedule, and afford. What has been sorely lacking for many years is a technological means by which deaf people can use their native language and have it automatically interpreted into a written and spoken language on demand. This is the principle goal of our research.”
Since the completion of the PhD, the path to commercialization of the technology has been slow but steady and ultimately successful. The glove is now manufactured and marketed by Anthrotronix, a company with a focus on Human Factors Interface and Design in regards to technology development.
Acceptance of the AcceleGlove by the Deaf
For many years researchers have been working on “cures” for deafness. The Cochlear Implant is one success story among such endeavors, allowing profoundly deaf individuals to hear sounds (albeit with limited quality) and comprehend speech. However, such cures have always controversial among the Deaf who see themselves as a community with a self sufficient and unique culture. In fact, some in the community see cures as unnecessary and invasive.
The AcceleGlove however, may offer something different. Rather than try and cure deafness, it provides a better communication channel with a non-invasive affordable technology. Ultimately, the wide acceptance of the glove will depend on its ease of use and its ability to translate a large enough vocabulary of sign which is a complex and rich language. There will no doubt be an ongoing improvement and expansion of the glove’s abilities in the future. In the meantime, the AcceleGlove could be an indispensible tool for those who are learning ASL. Many people purchase books or CD-ROMs to learn the basics of sign language, but these offer no means by which they can evaluate their progress without an instructor or ASL signer present.
Other uses of the Glove
There are many potential uses for a glove that can monitor the movements of the hand and fingers. The most obvious applications point towards uses in virtual reality and gaming. There is a growing trend among gaming consoles to use movement sensors as control inputs for a more enhanced user experience.
The AcceleGlove is shipped with its own Software Development Kit (SDK) that allows users to come up with their own applications. At USD$500 for the glove and software, the device is affordable for serious hobbyists and inventors looking to experiment with gesture detection and new ways to control computers, robots and other devices.