Aleteia

Uncle’s love for his niece could change millions of deaf people’s lives

SIGN-IO
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A Kenyan engineer proves how family is often the best source of inspiration.

For those who are deaf or hearing impaired there’s a new product on the market that may revolutionize their ability to communicate with people who don’t know sign language. Sign-IO gloves are the genius invention of a Kenyan engineer, 25-year-old Roy Allela, that can help deaf people find their voice.

Allela’s design uses sensors placed in the gloves that detect any movement in the fingers. The sensors transfer the movements through a Bluetooth connection to an android phone which then translates the sign language into audible conversation. This means that the slightest bend of the finger can be turned into audible speech.

The motivation behind Allela’s design comes from wanting to help his niece, who is deaf, communicate properly. “My niece wears the gloves, pairs them with her phone or mine, then starts signing. I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” the engineer shared with The Guardian. Thanks to her ability to lip read, Allela and his family don’t need to sign back.

What is also interesting about the design is that the young innovator was able to make adjustments after piloting the product in a special needs school, for those who sign at different speeds. Just as people speak at different speeds, people sign at different rates, too.

After adjusting the pitch, gender, and language of the speech, the gloves have an accuracy level of 93 percent. And what’s more, they come in a pretty cool Spiderman or princess design to help reduce any stigma for any kids wearing them. As Allela points out: “If the gloves look cool, every kid will want to know why you have them on.”

Although the gloves are still at a prototype level, the design won the 2018 “Hardware Trailblazer Award” at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and was a runner-up at the Royal Academy of Engineering Leaders in Innovation Fellowship in London.

The story behind this innovation shows how the love we share for our family can inspire us to help the lives of complete strangers. Not only is Allela an incredible uncle, he’s a very impressive engineer, too!