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.

Originally posted at

Quicksilver Life: How to Make a Genius

Those with kids in school may be familiar with the United States’ reputation in the education world. We barely make the top 1/3rd of countries in terms of math, science, and literacy education. But a new method of learning, facilitated by technologies like the internet, may be emerging in countries like India and Mexico.

When you walk into an American classroom and see a group of students huddled around a computer, your first reaction may be to wonder where the teacher is. Indeed, in America, that’s generally a sign that a student is playing a game, goofing off on Facebook, or any one of the infinite, unproductive things one can do on a computer. But if you walked into the classroom of Sergio Juárez, a teacher at the José Urbina Lopéz Primary School, you may be surprised to find the exact opposite is happening.

Using a method first tested by Indian teacher Sugata Mitra, Sergio gave his students access to information on a computer and asked them to research a topic for him. He found this method was by and large more effective than the cookie-cutter, industrial revolution-styled classroom in helping students to retain information. They tackled complex subjects, such as molecular biology, from the start, and were more effective in answering questions on the subject than when they had been taught simpler subjects in the by-the-book, dry lecture format that the Mexican, American, and many other world education systems purport as the standard.

This idea extends into moving education resources into the cloud, where anyone with an internet connection could access them. This could ensure that all students, regardless of their place of birth, have access to the same quality education materials. Teachers around the world could host video conferences with hundreds of classrooms at once, teaching materials in more effective ways than previously thought possible. The benefits of the system are still being explored, but early research is encouraging. It seems that putting children in charge of their education by having them research it independently works wonders.

So what are your thoughts on this approach? Do you think students should be encouraged to use the internet as a tool of learning? Or do you think we should stick to the “by-the-textbook” methods which have landed the United States 49th of the 148 developed countries in terms of its education quality? Let us know in the comments.

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