Many people with speech impairments rely, often solely, on sign language to communicate. But they come into difficulty when trying to speak to people who have no knowledge of sign language, often relying heavily on a translator.
For Roy Allela, a 25-year-old inventor from Kenya, this problem became personal when he saw that his six year old niece, who was born deaf, was struggling to communicate with her family.
So, he created a solution. Sign-IO are smart gloves which, by connecting via Bluetooth to an app, convert the movements made in sign language into audio speech. Each finger on the glove contains a flex sensor that records the exact movement both hands make. These sensors map the bend of the fingers, determine the letter being signed and translate it into audio words.
The user can pick the language, gender and pitch of the vocalisation on the app, which currently has a 93% accuracy rate. Allela has also designed the gloves to be customisable. The gloves also grant a degree of independence to the user as they no longer need to depend on a translator to help them communicate.
The gloves are already being used in a special needs school in south-west Kenya while Allela recently won an award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He plans to use the funding to further develop the gloves functionality.