A new glove developed at the University of California, San Diego, can convert the 26 letters of American Sign Language (ASL) into text on a smartphone or computer screen. "For thousands of people in the UK, sign language is their first language," says Jesal Vishnuram, the technology research manager at the charity Action on Hearing Loss. In the UK, someone who is deaf is entitled to a sign language translator at work or when visiting a hospital, but at a train station, for example, it can be incredibly difficult to communicate with people who don't sign. The flexible sensors mean that you hardly notice that you are wearing the glove, says Timothy O'Connor who is working on the technology at the University of California, San Diego.
Yet simple sentences like "The dog that ran past the barn fell" still miss the mark when translated to Chinese and back (although the result, "The dog ran past the barn," is getting close). Since with language we need to know "what does THIS particular phrase actually mean, right here, right now," any system that fails at this level truly hasn't solved the problem of natural language understanding (NLU). Only then do we have the possibility of achieving true AI and human-like language interactions with machines. San Jose, California-based Viv is a machine learning platform, recently acquired by Samsung, that lets developers to plug into and create an intelligent, conversational interface to anything.
Microsoft's Kinect has already proved its credentials in reading simple hand and body movements in the gaming world. But now a team of Chinese researchers have added sign language to its motion-sensing capabilities. Scientists at Microsoft Research Asia recently demonstrated software that allows Kinect to read sign language using hand tracking. What's impressive is that it can do this in real-time, translating sign language to spoken language and vice versa at conversational speeds. The system, dubbed the Kinect Sign Language Translator, is capable of capturing a conversation from both sides.