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May 5, 2005

Norwich develops virtual interpreter for the deaf

From: Anglia Advertiser, UK - May 5, 2005

By Sara Hardman.

A 'VIRTUAL signer' for the deaf made his on-line debut on Wednesday to help web users communicate and absorb information more quickly.

Guido is the latest virtual human, created by computer experts at the University of East Anglia and Norwich animation company Televirtual.

Guido is a virtual signer and was on-line for the first time this week to present information to deaf people on the website of Norfolk-based charity Deaf Connexions and was launched to coincide with Deaf Awareness Week.

Anyone logging onto the Deaf Connexions website will now be able to watch the virtual signer interpret forms and information when they click onto a small fist icon.

Sue Moore of Deaf Connexions on Heigham Street believes that Guido will be a very valuable asset to the site: "The virtual reality signer will help deaf people whose first language is British sign language and for whom written English is not easily accessible. This technology means that they can access information a lot quicker," she said.

While deaf people who want to find out about rubbish collection or library opening times will also be able to type their requests into a computer, the information officers will input set answers which are then signed by Guido who appears on the screen.

The RNID supported the project by providing two experienced signers to translate British Sign Language hand and facial movements into a set of symbols similar to hieroglyphics.

The job of converting the 'hieroglyphics' into a computer language has been managed by UEA computer experts Judy Tryggvason, Dr Ralph Elliott and Professor John Glauert.

They developed a synthetic signing system by sending motion commands, in the form of written codes, for Guido to animate. The computer package is pre-programmed to allow Guido to animate a sign taken from a growing database of vocabulary and phrases.

The avatar Guido was designed by a team led by Mark Wells, Research Director of real-time animation specialists Televirtual.

"Sign language is much more than hand movements," said Mr Wells. "Just as intonation can change the meaning of spoken words, facial expression and body posture can vary the meaning of sign sequences. So it was vital we developed an Avatar- Virtual Guido, who looked and behaved as naturally as possibly."

You can access the website and watch Guido sign at

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