Roy Allela, 25, has invented smart gloves which convert sign language movements into audio speech. The gloves, named Sign-IO, have sensors stitched on to each finger which interpret the word being signed from the bend of the finger. Allela says he was inspired by the need to communicate with his 6-year-old niece who was born deaf.
Allela is among 16 young Africans who have been shortlisted by The Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize for inventors from six countries to receive funding, training and mentoring for projects intended to revolutionize sectors from agriculture and science to women’s health.
The winner will be awarded Sh3.2 million (£25,000) while each of the three runners up will receive Sh1.2 million (£10,000).
According to Allela, his niece encountered difficulties while communicating with members of her family since none of them is conversant with sign language.
The smart gloves – dubbed Sign-IO – have flex sensors that are placed on each finger and have the capacity to quantify the bend of a finger and process the letter being signed.
Using Bluetooth, the gloves are connected to a mobile application, that Allela also developed, which then converts the sign into audio speech.
“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” says Allela.
Allela said the speed at which the signs are vocalized is one of the most important aspects of the smart gloves.
“People speak at different speeds and it’s the same with people who sign – some are really fast, others are slow, so we integrated that into the mobile application so that it’s comfortable for anyone to use it,” he said.
Through the app, users are able to set the language, gender, and pitch of the audio voice, with accuracy results averaging 93 percent.
“It fights the stigma associated with being deaf and having a speech impediment. If the gloves look cool, every kid will want to know why you have them on,” says Allela.
Allela’s innovation recently won the Hardware Trailblazer award from the prestigious American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) during its 2017 ASME Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) competition.
Allela says he is using the prize money from the award to make more accurate vocal predictions.