Living life while unable to hear or speak must be one of the most difficult ways to exist. While you may have sign language, speech is used so regularly that it must be disheartening to be left unable to engage others in the same manner. It's saddening, and then it's also worse for the person unable to use these basic human functions. They have to learn sign language. It doesn't matter whether they are naturally interested in languages. It's a matter of having no choice other than to learn it. Speech is something we take for granted, but wouldn't it be great to see those rendered unable to speak given the ability to express their thoughts with their voice?
Enter QuadSquad; a team of Ukrainian students who entered Microsoft's Imagine Cup. Their entry is called EnableTalk, and it just might change communication drastically. There are already solutions for those rendered deaf or mute; we covered one example of how one of these apps could help a family. The downside to the solution outlined there is that it relies on having an iPad with you at all times, and having the app installed as well. EnableTalk has a different approach. Rather than having to carry something around, their idea is to work the concept into gloves.
The gloves are fitted with flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscopes, accelerometers and solar cells for improved battery life. With all of these items fitted, the gloves can render sign language as speech, sending the information to a smartphone via BlueTooth. It doesn't completely remove the need for additional electronics, but smartphones are so common now that this is almost a non-issue.
You'd better dip into the bank account though, because these gloves surely won't be cheap. Or, perhaps not. According to the team responsible for the gloves, similar products use wired connections, fewer sensors, and no integrated software solutions, yet still cost around $1,200. Have a guess at how much the EnableTalk team's prototype costs. You'll be very surprised.
$75. That's potentially cheaper than the smartphone you would go on to hook them up to. The Imagine Cup is hosted by Microsoft, so obviously the EnableTalk project is forced to use more Microsoft hardware. It's running on Windows Mobile 6.5, as Windows Phone 7 doesn't allow developers access to its Bluetooth stack. Remember "WinMo"? Microsoft would prefer you didn't, and yet something like this has had to resort to operating on it.
Communication is something we take for granted, and people who are deaf or mute likely would be very appreciative of this. While sign language is extremely useful for these people, not everyone understands it. Then you also have variations in it. Variation in sign language only makes it more complex to understand, for differences change and you won't know unless you have studied it. It's a difficult job to learn a sign language, and then you also have to put up with the fact that it isn't completely consistent either. Hopefully Microsoft will take this idea further and get it working, since it seems like it could be a real game-changer.
Obviously, the price will change from the prototype to the finished product but the students responsible have a good base to work from as it is. An increase now should still leave them undercutting their competitors by a considerable margin.
Interested in Imagine Cup? Want to learn more or even register your team for the 2013 challenges? Head on over to Imagine Cup's website to stay updated on all the events for the 2013 competition.