Have you ever had an encounter with a deaf person? Well, most of us will certainly ignore the person and pretend not to be interested because we can’t comprehend their language. This is practically possible with strangers, but what if the hearing impaired person is a close relative?
This was the case for Roy Allela whose six-year-old niece was born deaf. She found it difficult to communicate with her family, none of whom had the knowledge of sign language. Allela, a 25 years old Kenyan technology evangelist who works for the Intel and tutors data science at Oxford University had a strong urge to communicate with his niece.
He embarked on a journey that would see him invent smart gloves that convert sign language movements into audio speech. The gloves named Sign-IO have flex sensors that quantify the bend of the fingers stitched on to each finger thereby processing the letter being signaled. The gloves are then paired via Bluetooth to a mobile phone application which then vocalizes the letters.
Roy displaying the Sign-IO smart gloves.
“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying.” he says, adding that the invention has taken into consideration the speed of speech making it comfortable for use by both the fast and slow speakers. Users can also set the language, gender and pitch of the vocalization through the app.
With an accuracy result averaging 93%, the smart gloves have won the hardware trailblazer award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Pitch @ Palace people’s choice award and were the second runner-up for the Leaders in Innovation Fellowship, a partnership between the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA) and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
During his Mashujaa day fete address at the Gusii Stadium in Kisii County, President Uhuru Kenyatta also recognized the smart gloves as one of the great inventions by a brilliant Kenyan youth, urging the youths to find solutions to problems that bedevil the society.
A view of the Sign-IO mobile interface.
“A good starting point for our young people is to look for a problem and solve it. If you solve a problem, heroism and success will naturally follow you.”, said President Kenyatta.
The head of state added that the smart glove is a heroic invention by a Kenyan youth and there are many more young people finding solutions to Kenyan problems.
“It is clear that Kenya has a pool of talented and gifted young people. Where these transformative innovations came from, there are many more. All we need to do is look. And if our national attention moves to the search for solutions, our natural energy will flow to a positive place.”, he said.
Allela’s goal is to place at least two pairs of gloves in every special needs school in Kenya, and believes they could be used to help the 34 million children worldwide who suffer disabling hearing loss, with a pilot already done at a special needs school in Migori County.