Sign language translated into text

Technabling, a spin-off of the University of Aberdeen (both of Aberdeen, Scotland), has developed software that can translate sign language into text.

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Technabling, a spin-off of the University of Aberdeen (both of Aberdeen, Scotland), has developed software that can translate sign language into text. Computer scientists at the company claim that the software is the first of its kind that can be used on portable devices.

A user "signs" into the camera integrated into aportable device. The signs are then translated into text by a Portable Sign language Translator (PSLT) that can be read by the person with whom the user is conversing.

Ernesto Compatangelo, PhD, a lecturer in Computing Science at the University of Aberdeen and founder and director of Technabling, says that his idea was to develop asoftware application that can be used on various devices.

Becausealgorithms cannot be generally patented in the EU, Compatangelo was unable to disclose the details of how images are processed. He did reveal that the developers needed to resolve a number of problems with image recognition and natural language generation.

"In terms of sign recognition, noisy backgrounds and individual signing styles are just two of the major issues," he says. "In terms of natural language generation, as the expressiveness of any sign language is substantially less than that of spoken or written language, textual rendering of a signed sentence poses challenging problems of ‘interpolation' where a number of speech elements (articles, prepositions, tenses) often need to be added to produce sentences—for example, in proper English rather than in an abridged way."

The PSLT could be used with a number of sign languages including British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton, a program that uses signs and symbols to help people communicate.

Since BSL is a general-purpose language, it poses limitations for users, making it challenging to easily express concepts and terms that are specific or used only within particular areas of society—for example, in education and the workplace. The PSLT enables sign language users to develop their own signs for specific concepts and terms not easily expressed using BSL.

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