Photo: Roy Allela
Twenty-five-year-old Kenyan engineer and innovator, Roy Allela, has created a set of gloves that will ultimately allow better communication between those who are deaf and those who are hearing yet may not necessarily know sign language. The Sign-IO gloves in essence translate signed hand movements into audible speech.
Allela's gloves feature sensors located on each finger that detect the positioning of each finger, including how much each finger will bend into a given position. The glove connects via Bluetooth to an Android phone which then will leverage use the text-to-speech function to provide translated speech to the hand gestures of a person signing.
The inspiration behind the Sign-IO gloves comes from the personal experience of having a young niece who is deaf. He nor his family knows sign language and often struggled to adequately and consistently communicate with her. "My niece wears the gloves, pairs them with her phone or mine, then starts signing. I’m able to understand what she’s saying," Allela shared in an interview with The Guardian.
Allela’s vision for the gloves is to have them placed in schools for special needs children throughout his home country of Kenya and then expand from there to positively impact the experiences of as many deaf or hearing-impaired children as possible. His gloves are amongst a number of cutting-edge projects that are contributing to the growing market of assistive technology devices that seek to provide aid to those with specific impairments and limitations.
Many sensor-based devices are starting to be created to bridge communication and capability gaps between different populations and once available to the public marketplace are projected to generate revenue upwards of $30 billion by 2024 according to Global NewsWire.
While the gloves are currently in the prototype phase of development and not available to the public market, they are already generating quite a buzz and have even won some awards. Sign-IO was the 2018 grand winner of the “Hardware Trailblazer Award” at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) global finals in New York and also took home a second runner-up acknowledgement at the Royal Academy of Engineering Leaders in Innovation Fellowship in London.