Innovative software turns sign language into text

Innovative software turns sign language into text
Computing scientists at Technabling, a spin-out company of the University of Aberdeen, have developed a new technology that translates sign language into text.

The software application is said to be 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 scientists believe 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.

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.

"The intent is to develop an application - an app in mmartphone terms - that is easily accessible and could be used on different devices including smartphones, laptops and PCs."

According to Dr Compatangelo, the PSLT has the potential to be used with a range of sign languages, including British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton. He believes, however, that it offers a superior solution to BSL because it enables users to personalise their language to their own individual needs.

Compatangelo explained: "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."

According to the researchers, the key intent was to create a technology that would enhance the lives of young deaf people who are either in education or training - to help them fulfil their education potential and enter the job market.

"The personalised aspect of the technology is crucial to making this happen," said Compatangelo. "For example, for a student who is being trained in joinery, there is no sign in BSL which means 'dovetail joint'. A student using PSLT can create their own sign to mean 'dovetail joint' allowing them to communicate easily with their tutor or other students in their class, without the limitations imposed when communicating solely with BSL."

It is anticipated that PSLT will be available by next year. Sign language users interested in becoming involved in its ongoing development should contact Dr Compatangelo at .

Laura Hopperton

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