US Deaf News : Deaf students win $25,000 grant to develop sign-to-text device

Posted on January 29, 2014

A group of deaf students have been awarded a $25,000 grant to help them create a device which will translate signs into words and sentences. The money will be used to develop the product for the next five years, including expanding a sign language database with up to 20,000 signs.

Winning the grant means Ryan Hait-Campbell, a new media design major from Seattle; Alex Opalka, a computer engineering technology major from Glastonbury, Conn.; Wade Kellard, a mechanical engineering technology major from Cincinnati; and Jordan Stemper, an industrial design major from Waukesha, Wis., have been accepted into Leap Motion’s LEAP AXLR8R in San Francisco.


Working under the name ‘MotionSavvy’, they are developing programmes for the Leap Motion 3-D sensor, which can recognise even very small hand movements. The students hope to create an application that will translate a hand shape into a text letter.

With further development, they hope that the sensor will eventually be able to translate a stream of sign language into words and sentences. This could then be used to aid communication in a variety of situations, including retail and government settings.

The team pitched their idea to Arvind Gupta, founder and director of the LEAP AXLR8R, via Skype. He said: “I’m very excited about MotionSavvy and everything they’re trying to do. It’s people helping themselves and helping others through technology.”

He continued, “Their demonstration prototype was very impressive. I think they have the potential to make meaningful changes to the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Simple communication can be extremely difficult for them. This could enable people to have a new way of communicating with the world.”

The students know only too well the communication barriers faced by deaf people. Hait-Campbell still has painful memories of not being able to communicate with his hearing peers at school. He said: “I don’t want others having to experience that.”

The team have approached government agencies, area businesses and hospitals to determine whether there is interest in their product, and to try and find potential investors.

“We’ll need money for research and development of the product and determining how we can improve the existing services and break into new markets,” Opalka said.

By Emily Howlett

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