Talk With Your Hands: Gloves Translate Sign Language Into Speech

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Four Ukrainian tech whizzes have done the seemingly impossible: they’ve given a voice to the voiceless. Calling themselves QuadSquad, they created a product called “Enable Talk”—gloves that translate sign language into spoken word, giving a voice to the 40 million people who live every day with speech and hearing impairments.

QuadSquad invented their sensory gloves as part of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition, nabbing this year’s top prize for their innovation. The tech tournament, held each year in a new international locale, challenges young scientists to create something that takes on one of “the world’s toughest problems.” Although it may sound like simply an international science fair, that baking soda and vinegar volcano definitely won’t cut it.

Most of the projects focused on the environment or healthcare. But QuadSquad tackled a much more basic problem: communication. The Enable Talk gloves work by translating the gestures of the user’s hands through a text-to-talk engine connected to a smartphone. Really, they look like something Lucius Fox would send over to Batman – because there are some seeming superpowers within.

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The sleek black gloves come packed with sense-reading gadgetry to interpret the wearer’s hand movements, utilizing flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscopes, accelerometers, and even solar panels to keep the battery kicking. The team said they came up with the idea after spending time with hearing-impaired athletes at their Ukrainian computer academy.

QuadSquad’s design may not be the very first of its kind, but aside from the geek chic factor, perhaps most attractive is the price . The team says the Enable Talk gloves can be created for around $75, a mere fraction of the cost of other prototypes (less sophisticated designs can cost up to $1,200).

But Enable Talk wasn’t the only innovation of the competition. The runners-up certainly deserve commendation of their own: Coccolo from Japan created a software program featuring lights that “talk to each other.” The team’s creation saves energy by dimming lights when they aren’t being used. Portugal’s wi-GO, who took third place, made a shopping cart capable of following disabled customers through a grocery store.

Speaking hands and automated shopping carts: talk about a brave new world.