Xbox's Kinect Senses Sign Language
Microsoft Research unveils Kinect-based technology that may one day open new lines of communication for the deaf.As an Xbox peripheral, Kinect may be (mostly) fun and games for Microsoft, but the company's research arm has other, more serious designs for the sensor technology. Microsoft Research Asia, working with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beijing Union University, has devised a prototype that translates spoken language into sign language, and vice versa, in real time. The project, called Kinect Sign Language Translator, would make it possible for users to translate between different spoken and sign languages. For instance, the technology can translate an English-speaking person's speech to Chinese sign language via an on-screen avatar and can potentially be extended to more languages. "During the first six months, we focused mainly on Chinese sign language data collection and labeling," noted Guobin Wu, research program manager for Microsoft Research Asia, in a Microsoft Research Connections Blog post. Should the team's efforts reach commercialization, it could have a big effect on the world's deaf population. "There are more than 20 million people in China who are hard of hearing, and an estimated 360 million such people around the world, so this project has immense potential to generate positive social impact worldwide," stated Wu.
An accompanying video shows the device in action. Users stand in front of a Kinect sensor bar, speak or sign their message, and a moment later the system delivers an on-screen translation with audio and an avatar that reproduces the signed speech.