UW students’ invention could revolutionize sign language

UW students’ invention could revolutionize sign language
BY MATT MARKOVICH

DALLAS, June 30, 2015 /PRNewswire/ —

SEATTLE — Two University of Washington sophomores have been award a prestigious prize for a pair of gloves they invented to help the hearing and speech impaired communicate with people who don’t understand sign language.

Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor call their invention “SignAloud”. It’s a pair of custom-built gloves with built in sensors in the hands and wrist that measure hand position and movement. Those signals are sent via Bluetooth to a computer program that translates American Sign Language into speech that is played back on a laptop.

“Eventually, it can be played by on a smartphone that you have in your pocket,” Says Azodi. “It can be on all the time and play back what the gloves say.”

Pryor, an aeronautical engineering student, wrote the computer program that looks at repetitive hand gestures and associates words to those hand gestures. When the gesture and the word match, the word is spoken. Now that the proof of concept appears to be working, the pair is working to improve the program’s vocabulary.

“Communication between people who are deaf and mute and the rest of the world — there’s a huge disconnect,” says Azodi. “We wanted to be a bridge between that gap.”

On Tuesday, the pair won a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT student prize for their work on the gloves. They won the “Use It” undergraduate category that recognizes inventions to improve a consumer’s experience.

“We want to make examples of young people like this that are out practicing invention,” says Dr. Michael J. Cima, faculty director of the Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology program. The judges felt that the SignAloud gloves were well-tested and provided a practical application.

“Other devices out there are not really practical for everyday use,” says Pryor. “Some use video input to get their hands; others have video sensors all across their arms and body and that’s not really practical for use in someone’s everyday life.”

“We built in on a college student’s budget, about $100 bucks,” says Azodi. They manufactured their prototype in UW CoMotion MakerSpace, a place for students to create and innovate using tools and equipment shared by everyone who has a desire to invent.

“We really sought out to make something that people can buy as a consumer device to use,” says Pryor.

The pair met in their dorm their freshman year and quickly became friends with a shared desire to innovate and problem solve. Pryor is also the software lead for the Husky Robotics Team. Azodi is a business major and technology lead for UW Information Technology.

The two are applying for a patent and plan to use the prize money pay tuition and upgrade the glove’s ergonomics and sleekness.

“What would make my day?” says Thomas. “See people using this on a day-to-day basis, I would be speechless.”

He doesn’t need to say anything. He has gloves that can do the talking.

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