Design Spotlight: The Gloves that Speak Sign Language


Quick. When’s the last time you had a conversation in sign language?

If you’re like the majority of Americans, your answer to that is most likely “never”. Maybe you learned a little in elementary school– enough to perform a song, or say the alphabet– but unless you’re deaf yourself, or have a deaf family member, chances are you never learned to converse. The hearing community tends to rely on the deaf to be able to lip read, or to have an interpreter. This is in spite of the fact that between 500,000 and 2 million Americans communicate primarily in ASL. In fact, more Americans use Mandarin Chinese in their daily communication than ASL. Many family members of the deaf don’t even learn ASL. The question remains: why not?

Well, that question may be about to become moot. Thanks to an enterprising pair of undergraduate students at the University of Washington, the hearing impaired and the hearing-privileged may finally be able to communicate freely and easily, without any of that pesky learning curve.

They call their invention “SignAloud”. The idea is so simple and elegant that it’s a wonder no one came up with it sooner: a set of gloves which translate sign language gestures into audible speech. As recently as 10 years ago, devices like these would have been seen as sci-fi flights of fancy, but as computer technology continues to decrease in size, technology is able to advance that much quicker.

The gloves are lightweight, with sensors throughout the fingers and a computing system around the wrists. The sensors detect gestures and translate them into speech. The goal is to make them as lightweight and ergonomic as possible, allowing them to become an everyday use item, such as glasses or a hearing aid.

While right now, the gloves can only translate a few hundred words, the future is bright. With any luck, we will see this device hit the market soon, and open up a whole new world of communication.

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Quicksilver Spotlight: Hertha Marks Ayrton, First Lady of Engineering


Originally posted at

When you think of engineering in the 1800s, many things come to mind. The industrial revolution, the steam engine, and figures like Thomas Edison and, if you’re particularly nerdy, Nikola Tesla. Lesser known, however, were the female engineers of the time. Thankfully, we live in the information age, and so information on the more obscure figures of history is easier to come by than ever. Thanks to Google, last month Hertha Marks Ayrton was honored: a Polish-born British engineer, physicist, and inventor who, without the internet, might have been lost to history along with dozens of other female innovators who lived before women were allowed to wear pants.

Hertha was one of nine children and grew up with only her mother, as her father died when she was 7. She became a governess by age 16, but wished to further her education and enrolled in courses in mathematics and physics at Cambridge. There, she constructed a blood pressure meter, lead the school’s choral society, founded the Girton fire brigade and founded a mathematical club. While she did not receive a degree, as Cambridge did not award degrees to women at the time, she later took an exam at the University of London, which awarded her a Bachelor of Science degree in 1881 on her successful completion of the exam.

She returned to London and earned money however she could. At the same time, she took care of a sick sister. She took up teaching mathematics, running a club for working girls, and embroidery. In this time, she also patented her first invention. In her lifetime, she would patent 26 inventions.

In 1885, she began experimenting with electricity alongside her husband, Professor William Edward Ayrton. She began studying the electric arc in this time, and published a paper of her findings on the subject. She brought the paper before the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the first woman to do so, and she was elected to the IEE shortly thereafter–also the first woman to achieve membership. The next would be in the mid-1900s. She also had her paper brought before the Royal Society and received the Hughes Medal, becoming the first woman to receive a prize from the Society and one of only two female recipients in its history, despite the fact the award has been given out annually since 1902.

Her works became internationally recognized, and over the next five years, her work became gospel in the field of electrical engineering. While at first, many institutions were hesitant to accept the works of a woman, her brilliance was undeniable, even in the face of the backwards attitudes towards women of the time.

Ayrton’s work in breaking into the sciences allowed other women to follow suit, though even in 2016, there’s a long way to go. You can read more about Hertha Marks Ayrton at

Tech Trends: Special Delivery – Who needs a Gas Station?

It seems the world can’t get enough of Silicon Valley startup apps. From Paypal to Uber to Slack, it seems we as a whole are ready for all of our day to day tasks to be relegated to our smartphones. While we are a solid seven years past “There’s an app for that”, it seems it is truer now than ever. But many of these apps aren’t just making life more convenient for a select few. Companies like Uber are up-ending the entire taxi industry and reshaping economies. As the landscape of day to day life rapidly shifts, lawmakers, established industries, and other entrepreneurs all scramble to keep up. Perhaps no where is this truer than in the emerging “gas on demand” industry.

Over the last year, several startups in California have begun developing apps and fleets to deliver gasoline straight to your car. It’s a little pricier than getting it from a gas station; while the gas prices will be calculated based on the cheapest stations available in your area, all of the apps charge an additional delivery fee, which can sometimes add about 50 cents per gallon. Still, the service has become quite popular throughout California for those who value convenience over saving a few dollars.

Technically, gasoline delivery on this scale is not permitted by many city and county fire codes. These entrepreneurs don’t seem perturbed, though, and see what they are doing as paving the way for new legislation which would allow their businesses, similar to the legal processes happening with regards to Uber. Some of these companies have more stringent safety protocols than others, though, and legislation would help to bring them all up to a standard which is safe for the road.

So, would you pay extra for gas to avoid having to go to the gas station? While the scope of these companies is currently limited to large cities throughout California, and a few others scattered through the country, it will likely not be long before they are within everyone’s reach. Let us know what you think in the comments.