Sign Language is definitely a boon to deaf people when it comes to communicating with each other, or with non-deaf people who are trained in the system. If a hearing person doesn’t regularly deal with the deaf, however, then there's an obvious communication barrier. In order to address that situation, a group of engineering technology and industrial design students from the University of Houston have created MyVoice – a prototype American Sign Language (ASL) translator.

MyVoice is a portable device that incorporates a microphone, speaker, soundboard, video camera and monitor. The idea is that it would be propped up on a hard level surface, where it would use its camera to “read” the hand gestures of a deaf person. A microprocessor would recognize the individual signs, and would then audibly “say” the message to the hearing person via the soundboard and speaker.

Conversely, it could also listen to a message spoken by a hearing person, which it would then translate into a series of images of ASL hand signs, displayed on its screen. In this way, it could be used by both deaf and non-deaf people, to understand one another.

So far, it is only capable of translating the phrase “A good job, Cougars.” Even that was a lot of work, as each of the signs in that phrase consisted of 200 to 300 images that had to be recognized and/or reproduced. It was enough, however, to win the device first place among student projects at the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) - Gulf Southwest Annual Conference.

Although the students have since graduated, it is hoped that work will continue on my MyVoice. “We got it to work, but we hope to work with someone to implement this as a product,” said team member Sergio Aleman. “We want to prove to the community that this will work.”

An already-existing product known as the AcceleGlove works as a one-way deaf-to-hearing translator. It uses built-in accelerometers to determine the signs being formed by the wearer’s hand, and expresses those in written text or spoken words.

Source: University of Houston