IM this article to a friend!

September 1, 2003

Deaf speak using a computer, golf glove

From: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia - Sept 1, 2003

Wheaton, Maryland

"Thank you for inviting me," said the computerised voice that was tinny but beautiful: the words had just been translated into sound from the silent hand signals of the deaf.

Jose Hernandez Rebollar, 34, is the Mexican inventor of a machine that will allow the deaf to speak with people who do not understand sign language.

The prototype uses 17 sensors and a golf glove. But with engineering and marketing, the deaf will be able to make themselves understood without constantly fumbling for pen and paper, said the inventor whose idea has caught the ears of investors who have backed his small company on the outskirts of Washington.

The mother of this invention was a necessity very close at hand.

"My nephew is five years old, he lives in the United States and is learning the American Sign Language," Hernandez said.

The computer can even be programmed to translate American Sign Language into Spanish - or any other language in the program.

"This boy is going to need something to communicate with his parents speaking only Spanish."

Hernandez graduated from a university in Puebla, Mexico, before coming to the United States as a Fullbright scholar. He earned a doctorate in electrical engineering at George Washington University in Washington.

He attached 13 sensors to a glove and four more to his arm. Together, they follow a signer's three-dimensional movements.

"My wife thought I was getting crazy.

"I was getting up and standing in front of the mirror, gesturing and marking myself to know where to put the sensors," he said.

In all, it took two years to build the AcceleGlove, which now has a 200-word vocabulary it can form into short phrases.

He is convinced that he can make a commercial version "in less than a year if all the money is available".

Hernandez will now improve his design robotics, miniaturization and wireless technology that is available off the shelf.

"This has to be cheap and the final product can be cheap," around $US200 ($A313), he said.

The Wheaton-based Institute for Disabilities Research and Training where Hernandez works has, since it was founded in 1986, developed a large number of educational products for the deaf and hard of hearing with grants from the US Department of Education.

Company president Corinne Vinopol said other sectors have seen the possibilities of the invention, such as defence, medicine or even sports "for the perfect golf swing," she said.

"We are trying to stay out of this."

There are 3,000,000 deaf people in the United States and 28,000,000 with hearing problems, according to government statistics.


Copyright © 2003 The Sydney Morning Herald.