A GW research scientist is working to change the way those who use sign language communicate with the world.
A device, developed by Jose Hernandez-Rebollar and funded by the federal Department of Education, features a glove that reads hand motions and arm elevation to determine what a deaf person is signing with his hand. The information is then transmitted to a computer that interprets the signal as a letter.
“The main function of the glove is to be able to take a hand signal and place it in a context where people not familiar with (American Sign Language) can understand,” Hernandez-Rebollar said. “With the use of an arm band electrically connected to the glove, which in turn links up to a computer, the device can fully interpret the desired letter.”
The device, dubbed AcceleGlove, is in its final stage of development, which involves reducing the number of wires and making it more portable so it can be used outside of a classroom setting. The complete glove would include an audio component so that a deaf person could potentially “speak” by signing with the glove.
Hernandez-Rebollar, who is not hearing impaired, got the idea for his project after realizing such a device had never been attempted before. Nicholas Kyriakopoulos and Robert Lindeman, professors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, have assisted Hernandez-Rebollar in the project. The team has submitted a request for a patent of the product that is under consideration.
Hernandez-Rebollar said, “I would see word-to-word translators for different languages, and thought of how useful it would be to have one for ASL.” As many as two million people use ASL in the United States.
Hernandez-Rebollar, a native of Mexico, came to the United States and GW in 1998 on a Fulbright scholarship. Before that, he worked at the National Institute for Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics in Mexico.
Hernandez-Rebollar attributed a large part of the project’s success to the government funding that, he said, he was very lucky to receive.
“In recent years, the government has been somewhat hesitant to fund projects such as this one,” he said. In 2003, when the project was first submitted, Hernandez-Rebollar’s was one of 15 projects to be approved for funding.
When completed, the project could be used for educational and commercial purposes.
“Currently, there is a lot of software and Web sites which help teach ASL, but as of right now there is no market for hardware which serves as a translator,” he said.
He added, “Hopefully, the first customer will be GW. We are opening talks so that they will have the AcceleGlove in (American Sign Language) classrooms starting next year.”