Electric glove translates sign language into text messages in real-time to help deaf people communicate

An electric glove which can convert sign language into text messages has been unveiled by scientists.

The $100 (£77) device will will allow deaf people to instantly send messages to those who don't understand sign language, according to its inventors.

Researchers fitted a standard sports glove with nine flexible strain sensors which react when a user bends their fingers to create the new device.

The device, which was developed at the University of California, San Diego, can convert the 26 letters of American Sign Language (ASL) into text that can be viewed on a smartphone or computer.

Sign language is the only form of communication for many deaf people, statistics have shown.

This is because learning written languages can be difficult without being able to understand the sounds which correspond with particular words. 

'For thousands of people in the UK, sign language is their first language,' Jesal Vishnuram, the technology research manager at the charity Action on Hearing Loss, told New Scientist.

'Many have little or no written English. Technology like this will completely change their lives.'

The device consists of a sports glove which has been fitted with nine stretchable sensors positioned over the knuckles.

When a user bends their fingers or thumb to sign a letter, the sensors stretch, which causes an electrical signal to be produced.

These signals are then processed by software to figure out the configuration of the hand.

And motion sensors are also fitted the back of the glove to record whether the hand is moving or still.

This allows the glove to distinguish between particular letters such as 'i' and 'j'.
Both letters involve bending just the little finger, but for 'i' the hand is still while for 'j' the hand is rotated 180 degrees.

The information from the glove is then sent via Bluetooth to an app on a smartphone or computer, which will then display a translated version of the message.

The system cost less than $100 (£77) to build and has low power requirements, according to the researchers.

Left shows the electrical signals which are produced when different figure configurations are sensed by the glove. Top right shows photographs of the glove producing the letters 'U, C, S, D'

Researchers fitted a standard sports glove with nine flexible strain sensors which react when a user bends their fingers to create the new device

And the glove triumphs over previous technology because it is flexible and light weight, according to Timothy O'Connor, the researcher who is currently developing the technology.

At present time, the glove can only interpret letters rather than words, meaning that users must spell out their messages letter by letter.

And although the glove can translate ASL, it is not suitable for those who use British Sign Language (BSL).

This is because ASL uses just one hand, whereas BSL makes use of both, according to researchers
The researchers added the technology could also be used to control the robots of the future. 

'One application in the pipeline is a 3D printed robot hand that we can control using the glove,' Dr O'Connor told New Scientist.

Being able to control a robotic hand in this way could be helpful in robotic surgery of bomb disposal, he added.

It is not yet known when the device will become available to consumers. 

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