American Sign Language Goes Mobile

In March we covered research at Cornell University that's bringing sign language to mobile devices--which the deaf community has traditionally only been able to use for text messaging.

Now the Cornell team, led by electrical and computer engineering professor Sheila Hemani, has developed prototype devices and is testing them with about 25 American Sign Language (ASL) speakers in the Seattle area.

From the press release:

“We completely take cell phones for granted,” said Sheila Hemami... “Deaf people can text, but if texting were so fabulous, cell phones would never develop. There is a reason that we like to use our cell phones. People prefer to talk.” The technology, Hemami continued, is about much more than convenience. It allows deaf people “untethered communication in their native language” – exactly the same connectivity available to hearing people, she said.

The challenge was to make the phone's video process enough frames per second for test subjects to have conversations in real-time, despite low bandwidth, while not draining the phone's battery.

Now the researchers are working to make the phones "as user friendly as possible," while reducing the cost of integrating mobile ASL software into the devices.

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