EnableTalk Turns Sign Language Into Speech, Wins Imagine Cup Prize

A trio of Ukrainian students built a $50 device that could help hundreds of millions of hearing-impaired people.

More than 275 million hearing-impaired people are unable to use speech to communicate. Sign language is one solution, but it's only as helpful as the number of people who know the language. That problem is what drove three Ukrainian students to develop EnableTalk, a pair of sensory gloves that help bridge that communication gap by turning sign language into speech.

The three-programmer team behind EnableTalk, who were inspired by interactions with hearing-impaired athletes at their school, took the $25,000 top prize in software design at Microsoft’s 10th annual Imagine Cup. The decade-old tech competition challenges students to design innovative technology across various categories including game design, Kinect, the Windows Phone, and Windows 8. 

EnableTalk consists of two parts: The first is a pair of gloves fitted with 15 sensors that determine what gestures are being signed. The second is Windows software for smartphones that converts those gestures, transmitted via Bluetooth, into sound waves. Those sound waves are finally translated into recognizable speech using Microsoft's Speech and Bing APIs.

EnableTalk'susers can both modify its standard library of gestures as well as teach it new ones that fall outside of standard sign language. That's incredibly helpful when you consider that sign language, much like any other language, has a variety of regional dialects. The $50 price tag makes it accessible to most anyone—similar devices, including an Android-compatible version that debuted earlier this year at a Google developer event in Tel Aviv, cost around $1,200 and don't include integrated software. QuadSquad estimates the price per device will drop to around $20 if EnableTalk enters mass production.

Follow me on Twitter @christinachaey.

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