A Device That Interprets Sign Language Is Now Being Crowdfunded


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If, like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, what you have is a failure to communicate, there’s a new device that might help. MotionSavvy is now crowdfunding a device on Indiegogo called UNI, a portable, two-way communication device which can interpret sign language through a camera that tracks a user's hands in live-time and translates it into spoken words. In addition, the product can also translate spoken words into text messages. The campaign goal is set at $40,000.

The original six-person MotionSavvy team (all are deaf) was hatched from the Leap Motion accelerator AXLR8R, so it makes sense that the three parts to the technology – a phone app, tablet and case – use the Leap Motion gesture technology. The motion gesture recognition and voice recognition software can work without Internet access. Moreover, the sign language database will be updated with new gestures and words from users via the "Sign Builder" feature because, as in speech, there are multiple ways to express a word in sign.  

UNI was created to address the disproportionate level of unemployment faced by the deaf community. For instance, less than half of people with hearing disabilities in the U.S between the ages of 18 and 64 had jobs in 2012. And beyond America's borders, the outlook is grimmer. While the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination and requires workplaces and businesses to provide accessibility to people with disabilities, this isn’t always the case in other parts of the world.

Related: Hiring Employees With Disabilities

“We want to open up the rest of the world to the Deaf community and give them the opportunity to go about their lives with confidence and accomplish dreams that were once thought to be impossible,” MotionSavvy’s co-founder and CEO Ryan Hait-Campbell said in a statement. “UNI could make the difference for a Deaf person getting paid minimum wage as a retail backroom stocker to earning a six-figure salary as an investment banker."

Two hundred Indiegogo campaign contributors will be able to try the device at the discounted price of $189. Otherwise, UNI is expected to retail at $499. The company -- now a nine-person team --  will also charge $19.99 per month to access the UNI software.  In the future, MotionSavvy plans to include languages other than American Sign Language and to create a feature that translates audible speech back into gestures rather than text. While the product uses a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet with the Windows 8.1 OS, the company hopes to expand to Android and Apple devices in the future, including cell phones.

Want a closer look on how it works? Check out this video below.

Related: With an All-Deaf Wait Staff, New Restaurant Asks Guests to Order in Sign Language

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include MotionSavvy's new pricing information.

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