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18th November 2014

Speech to text and sign to speech

“There’s not been any real innovation for those deaf who cannot speak . . .” says founder of Motionsavvy, Ryan Hait-Campbell.

And I believe him. Because if there’s anyone who would know about revolutions for the deaf, it’s a tech-savvy deaf person himself.

With a crowdfunded project on Indiegogo, his team of five set out to break down communication barriers with a special tablet. It’s called Uni and there really isn’t anything like it out there. The first component is basically nothing more than voice recognition: understanding what people say and translating it into text appearing on the screen.

It’s the second part that is really groundbreaking. The tablet can recognize sign language gestures and translate them into vocal speech. They use leap motion technology, the one that recognizes motion without physical contact. Basically, you just wave your hand around in the air and that controls your laptop, TV etc.

Credit: Motionsavvy

Anyone, deaf or hearing, sign language expert or not can talk to each other. The potential is huge. With the ability to learn, Uni could teach itself your own “dialect” of sign language and boost its dictionary through “crowdsigning” (users can update a database with a continuous flow of new signs).

“We want to focus on making this the best we can for the deaf world,” Hait-Campbell wrote in Time .

For just under $200, they seem to be.

Giving life subtitles

While it can’t read your hand gestures, it can make the deaf feel more connected. There are several apps that provide “live captioning” for those hard of hearing. Phones, tablets, or laptops can display subtitles in real-time, whether it’s in front of the TV, in a (not too noisy) bar, or during a work meeting.

The tech behind it?

Not even that tricky. Any smartphone with a decent microphone and voice recognition can do it and in a matter of a second or two live captions can appear on screen. With the help of an app called Transcense even different people in the group can be distinguished from one another eliminating confusion over who said what.

Meanwhile in France, Kickstarter project RogerVoice came up with a way to translate phone calls to text in real-time giving over 70 million people worldwide a chance to experience their own version of the traditional “phone call.”

And as for Google, – that everpresent Glass that made headlines for its use in operating rooms, has now introduced live captioning on screen.


Maybe Hait-Campbell was right, there hasn’t been any real innovation until now. But that seems to be changing.

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