Technology which translates sign language into text is being developed by scientists in Aberdeen as part of a small business research initiative (SBRI) managed by Jisc TechDis, a leading UK advisory service on technology and inclusion.
The software application is the first of its kind in the world which can be used on portable devices and allows users to customise sign language to their own specific needs.
The technology has the potential to transform how sign language users – from the profoundly deaf to those who have lost hearing in later life – communicate.
The development of the portable sign language translator is funded by £150K from the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) sponsored by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and managed by Jisc TechDis. Jisc TechDis has also facilitated user testing so that the products developed are fit for purpose.
Sal Cooke, Jisc TechDis director says, “The fact that BIS and TSB entrusted the project management to us is a wonderful endorsement of our expertise. Our direct links with the learners who may benefit most ensures that the end product will be fully tested and fit for purpose.”
Computing scientists at Technabling, a spin-out company of the University of Aberdeen, are behind the technology which aims to bridge the gap between sign language and more standard forms of communication.
Dr Ernesto Compatangelo, a lecturer in computing science at the University of Aberdeen, and founder and director of Technabling said: “The aim of the technology – known as the Portable Sign language Translator (PSLT) - is to empower sign language users by enabling them to overcome the communication challenges they can experience, through portable technology. The user signs into a standard camera integrated into a laptop, netbook, Smartphone or other portable device such as a tablet. Their signs are immediately translated into text which can be read by the person they are conversing with.
Did you know? The number of people in the UK whose first or preferred language is BSL is estimated to be between 50,000 (Action on Hearing Loss) and 70,000 (British Deaf Association).
The team will now work to develop an app to be used on different devices including Smartphones, laptops and PC.
The tool has the potential to be used with a range of sign languages including British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton.
Dr Compatangelo continued: “One of the most innovative and exciting aspects of the technology, is that it allows sign language users to actually develop their own signs for concepts and terms they need to have in their vocabulary, but they may not have been able to express easily when using BSL.”
“Whilst the technology has the potential to transform the lives of all sign language users, a key target market has been identified."