Gesture-recognition system can translate sign language into text — and back again

Voice-based dictation tools may be old news from in terms of technology, but not everyone is able to fully take advantage of them. For deaf people who use signing as their primary means of communication, available options are far more limited. That’s even more frustrating when you consider the challenges that may confront a person trying to converse with folks who are not proficient in signing.

A Dallas-based startup is setting out to set things right, though. Called KinTrans, the team has developed smart tech capable of translating sign language into voice and text, and voice taken to text or sign language automatically.

The results allow signers and non-signers to communicate together in their own languages, effectively, effortlessly, and instantaneously.

“What makes this technology exciting is the ability to open up conversations between signers and speakers in the marketplace, workplace, schools, health care, and civic centers,” Catherine Bentley, cofounder and business development officer at KinTrans, told Digital Trends. “Traditionally, communicating in these settings has been difficult; requiring friends or family who sign and interpret, or professional interpreters on-site or off-site through video, and even using pen and paper. None of these dependencies are scalable — plus they lack privacy and independence for the signer.”

KinTrans’ tech relies on a 3D camera which tracks the movement of a signer’s hands and body when they sign out words. When requested, it can then translate the signed words into written English (or, currently, Arabic, although additional languages will follow in the future). Alternatively, voice can be translated into signed words communicated by an animated avatar on the screen. According to its creators, the system is already able to recognize thousands of signed words with an accuracy of around 98 percent.

At present, Bentley said that a beta version has been rolled out, and is being used in a variety of service and point-of-sale environments. This is available in both American Sign Language and Arabic Union Sign Language.

“As KinTrans grows, other uses and applications will be developed so that it becomes a standard deaf communication platform, hosting millions of conversations in a variety of public and private settings, online and offline,” she said.

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