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Smart gloves give a new voice to the disabled

By Xie Min and Yan Weijue | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-18 08:17

Smart gloves give a new voice to the disabled

An employee from Yingmi Technology demonstrates a pair of magic gloves that can help translate for those with hearing and speech impairments. [Photo provided to China Daily]

People with hearing and speech impairments are being given a new voice thanks to the latest in virtual reality technology, to be put on display at the 3rd World Internet Conference on November 16-18 in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province.

Sign language has long played a vital role in communication among deaf and mute people; however, it does not help them communicate with those that don't understand it. This is where the VR tech comes in.

Using a pair of "smart gloves", sign language gestures are able to be interpreted and converted into verbal language, giving users a voice which can be universally understood.

This innovative solution comes thanks to work of Chinese VR startup Yingmi Technology, based in Tongxiang, Zhejiang province.

The gloves feature an array of sensors and accelerometers which detect movement and transmit the data via bluetooth to a computer which analyses the motions, checking them against a giant sign language database.

The system is designed to identify all kinds of gestures and signs, and then match them to the database-once matched, the computer will convert the gestures into a visual or audio output.

"The system is just like a digital dictionary in sign language where the user can quickly find the verbal meaning of the gestures," said Mei Ling, R&D engineer at Yingmi Technology.

The gloves mainly concentrate on tracking how much the fingers are bent, palm orientation and the movement path of the user's hands. All of which enhances the accuracy, he added.

"Compared with the current VR manipulators such as joysticks, our smart gloves can identify more accurate hand gestures and this technology can provide people with better interactive experiences," Mei said.

The gloves, thought to be the first of their kind in China, has made their debut at the ongoing 3rd World Internet Conference.

The company invited a sign language expert on Wednesday to try the wearable gadget at the conference, according to Chen Cong, general manager of the company.

Chen and his group hope the product can go to market early next year, carrying an estimated sales price of less than 1,000 yuan ($148).

"We would like to offer users a convenient and affordable wearable product to make their voices heard," Chen said.

The latest statistics show that China currently has more than 85 million disabled people, about 20 million of whom are affected by hearing and speech impairment.

Most of them make use of imported hearing-aids and cochlear implants, which are expensive, according to Yang Yang, chairwoman at the China Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

JD.com, China's equivalent to Amazon.com, lists the price of imported in-ear hearing-aids as at least 4,000 yuan.

"So far, there has been no assistive device for the mute, and our product will fulfill the market vacancy in the country," said Chen.

Yingmi Technology has been helped in its innovation thanks in part to favorable industrial policies put in place by the central government. In August, the State Council rolled out a plan to support the development of the rehabilitation and assistive device industry and to encourage regional governments to provide subsidies for the disabled to help them meet their needs for assistive devices.

"All this is good news for us," Chen said, revealing that the company is working on a supporting app for the gloves, developing more algorithms, and integrating more languages such as English and Japanese.

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