Two University of Washington (UW) undergraduates have recently (April 2016) won a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for gloves that translate sign language into text or speech. The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is a nationwide search for the most innovative undergraduate and graduate students. This year, UW sophomores Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor — who are studying business administration/aeronautics and astronautics engineering, respectively — won the “Use It” undergraduate category that recognizes technology-based inventions to improve consumer devices.
Their invention, “SignAloud,” is a pair of gloves that can recognize hand gestures that correspond to words and phrases in American Sign Language. Each glove contains sensors that record hand position and movement and send data wirelessly via Bluetooth to a laptop computer. The computer looks at the gesture data through various sequential statistical regressions, similar to a neural network. If the data match a gesture, then the associated word or phrase is spoken through a speaker. Although currently only applicable to American Sign Language, it has the potential to provide benefit to over 70 Million deaf and mute persons worldwide.
“Our purpose for developing these gloves was to provide an easy-to-use bridge between native speakers of American Sign Language and the rest of the world,” Azodi said. “The idea initially came out of our shared interest in invention and problem solving. But coupling it with our belief that communication is a fundamental human right, we set out to make it more accessible to a larger audience.”