For people who use sign language to communicate, interacting with people who do not know sign language can be an enormous challenge and create barriers for people who are hearing impaired. Until now, the best alternative might have been writing out notes on a piece of paper. However, an upcoming product from a company called MotionSavvy hopes to offer a better solution.
The solution does not look like the advanced piece of assistive technology that it is, but rather looks like a thin tablet with a Leap Motion device attached to the front. The Leap Motion senses the motion of the users hand to recognize signs using multiple cameras. Once the table recognizes the signs it can display the signed phrase as text on screen or even as spoken words with text-to-speech. This allows the other person that does not know sign language to understand what is being signed. Then the other person can speak into the tablet and speech recognition technology will allow the words to appear on the screen for the hearing impaired person to read.
This technology can allow deaf and hearing impaired users to communicate with other people that do not know sign language without an interpreter or slow hand written messages. However there are some limitations that should be expected from a first generation product such as the UNI. Users will not be able to use their existing tablet with the software and will need to purchase both the Leap Motion device and accompanying Windows tablet and case through MotionSavvy. Also, the system may have difficulty interpreting the nuances of different sign language styles. Additionally only American Sign Language (ASL) will be supported initially. Luckily, MotionSavvy will include a feature to allow people to teach the device how to recognize new signs. With a feature called CrowdSign, the signs imported by one user can be shared with other users of the system. This will allow the library of recognizable signs to increase quickly provided users are willing to create and share their imported signs. However, because of the upkeep needed to maintain the CrowdSign features, users will need to pay a monthly fee to use the UNI tablet.
The MotionSavvy UNI tablet is expected to be released in early 2015. At this time, details on pricing are unclear, but MotionSavvy has said that the UNI will sell for more than $500 when released.