Tuesday, October 21, 2014

UNI: A Device That Converts Sign Language To Speech

student using UNI with teacher

Remember MotionSavvy, the company that was working on creating a device that would convert sign language into speech so the deaf and hard of hearing could use it on a daily basis even with people who don't know sign language? Well, the same company is launching a crowdfunding campaign to make this product a reality and bring it to the masses!

The device, UNI, will retail for $799 but early bird prices start at $499. Read the press release below to get a detailed understanding of what all UNI can do. It is expected to ship in Fall 2015.

Check out their Indiegogo page  and website for more details and to support them!

MotionSavvy Announces Crowdfunding Campaign to Build UNI, the First Device That Allows Both Deaf and Hearing Communities to Naturally Communicate with Each Other

First of its kind device translates sign language into audio and spoken word to text, finally empowering the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to lead full lives and boundless careers.

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- October 21, 2014 -- Can you imagine being held back in your career or having a hard time meeting new people because you were unable to talk to those around you? For the Deaf community this is an everyday struggle. That's why today, MotionSavvy is officially launching its pre-order campaign for UNI, the world’s first mobile device that enables the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to communicate with the world around them.

To see how UNI can impact lives, watch a video of how it works here:

For the 370 million Deaf people in the world and the roughly 3.7 billion others that engage with them, communication is often frustrating or awkward. And with interpreter services being a luxury that many cannot afford, most Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals are forced to rely on clunky and degrading forms of communication--like typing out messages on their smartphones or frantically jotting down thoughts with a pen and paper--to express their needs.

Enter UNI, the first technology of its kind that utilizes motion gesture recognition to translate sign

image shows how UNI in action
language to audio and spoken word to text in real time. Built by a team of Deaf and Hard of Hearing engineers from Rochester Institute of Technology with design and programming experiences from Nintendo, Microsoft, Railcomm, Inc., and ZVRS. UNI aims to empower the Deaf community with the choice to live the lifestyles they desire at home, in public, at work or in school.

UNI is comprised of three parts: a tablet, a smart case, and a mobile app. The device works without an Internet connection to help the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communicate anywhere at anytime.

Here’s what UNI does:
  • Translates sign language into audible speech: Powered by motion gesture recognition technologies, UNI translates signs into audible speech for hearing individuals.
  • Converts spoken word to written text: Using voice recognition technology, UNI identifies audible speech and converts it to text for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals.
  • Recognizes your signing: Every person signs a little differently, even if they sign in the same language. The smart recognition feature allows users to train their device to recognize different gestures by adding new signs and words to the MotionSavvy Sign Language Database.

Gets smarter with every use through crowdsigning: Did you know sign language is not universal, and even American Sign Language consists of different dialects and accents? Just like Wikipedia crowdsources information, MotionSavvy adds new terms and gestures to its Sign Language Database as more people use it. This means UNI will get smarter over time to provide the most accurate translations.

“Many Deaf people live in isolation, and isolation is a dangerous mindset,” said Ryan Hait-Campbell, CEO and co-founder of MotionSavvy. “We want to open up the rest of the world to the Deaf community and give them the opportunity to go about their lives with confidence and accomplish dreams that were once thought to be impossible. UNI could make the difference for a Deaf person getting paid minimum wage as a retail backroom stocker to earning a six-figure salary as an investment banker.”

MotionSavvy is partnering with Indiegogo to launch its pre-order campaign today, with a goal to raise $100,000 to understand market fit and begin manufacturing. UNI will retail for $799, but early bird pricing starts at $499 while limited supplies last, and is expected to ship in the Fall of 2015. To learn more and pre-order a UNI, visit: www.motionsavvy.com.

About MotionSavvy

MotionSavvy is a company of Deaf and Hard of Hearing young professionals and students who are on a mission to help expand the range of communication for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people around the world using advanced motion sensor technology. The company’s first product is UNI, the mobile communication device that translates sign language to audio and spoken language to text in real-time. Founded in 2013, MotionSavvy is headquartered in Alameda, CA.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Prosthetic Hand Lets Amputees Feel Texture Of Objects

an amputee wearing a prosthetic hand and gripping a cherry tomato
Over the years, prosthetic hands are becoming more and more viable for people who lose their hands in accidents or were perhaps not born with one. Prosthetic limbs are great in that they help the users get back to daily routine operations. The one thing that most prosthetic limbs don't do however, is allow the wearer to feel the texture of objects that they grip. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH have taken the prosthetic hand one step ahead by adding sensation and "feel" to the hand they have created. 

"Touch perception on the fingers and hand is essential for fine motor control, contributes to our sense of self, allows for effective communication, and aids in our fundamental perception of the world." [1]

Turns out, sensation is not felt or generated by a hand but by a certain part of the brain. When a person lose their hand, they inherently lose the input that switches on those parts of the brain responsible for sensation. By sending electric signals by a computer into nerves in the user's arm and eventually to a specific part of the brain, sensation or touch can be reactivated.

Igor Spetic, a man who lost his right hand in an industrial accident in 2005, says that he can see his arm hair raise when a cotton is brushed against his prosthetic hand.

another amputee wearing the prosthetic hand squeezing toothpaste on a toothbrushSince the amputees can now feel the texture of the object they are handling, they also know exactly how much pressure to apply to form their grip without damaging the object. With other prosthetic hands, gripping tomatoes and grapes meant creating juice instantly!

Currently, this arm can be tested and improved only in a lab setting, however, the team plans to create an implantable hand in the next five years so it could be tested at home. Detailed description of how this hand works was published in this article.

Watch the video to learn about all the research that has been going on to make this hand a success.

Source: CWRU via Gizmodo, Science Translational Medicine [1] 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

VEST: A Vest That Helps Deaf People Hear

image showing front and back of vest
We know very well that a large majority of deaf people use hearing aids or cochlear implants to amplify and hear the sounds around them. A scientist is working on another form of aid that will help deaf people convert sound to electrical signals which are sent to the brain directly - no need for an aid or implant!
This new aid, called VEST (Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer) is an actual vest that a deaf person will wear under their shirt. Their (Android) smart phone will capture the sounds around them and send them to vibration motors on the vest real time, which will be converted to touch in the form of vibrations. These vibrations, or electric signals, are then sent to the brain directly where they are interpreted into information. With this vest, deaf people will be able to do several things that are typically either not possible for them or very difficult, like listening to traffic sounds in their surroundings, music, etc.
image showing description of how VEST works.
This device would cost approximately $2,000 - an eighth of what a cochlear implant surgery costs, and since this is something one just wears (and is hidden under their clothing), there is no need for a medical surgery.
The inventor of VEST, David Eagleman, also plans to send weather, stock market information, and tweets directly to this vest in the future. As an example, if the wearer of VEST were in a room where people were tweeting with a certain hashtag, they would get all those tweets directly into their brain!

Data around them will get directly streamed to their brain!
This vest weighs around 10 lbs but future enhancements include shedding that extra weight off.
Eagleman will be posting regular VEST updates on his website here.
Watch this Kickstarter video (that was successfully funded just yesterday to learn more about VEST and what all it can do.

Watch this three minute video to understand the bigger theoretical concepts behind VEST.

And here's a very amazing presentation by David Eagleman at Being Human last year. It's 22 minutes long but totally worth watching!

Source: Medical Daily, Kickstarter, Eagleman Laboratory

Monday, September 22, 2014

Four Senses: Cooking Show For Blind People

photo of Christine Ha, host of Four Senses, holding a dish she cooked on the show.

How would a blind foodie learn to cook new and exciting recipes? By watching a cooking show on tv, of course!

Hosted by blind chef Christine Ha, who won the MasterChef USA in 2012, the show, called Four Senses airs on AMI - Accessible Media Inc., a Toronto based channel for hearing and visually impaired people. She is accompanied by award winning chef Carl Heinrich, who is sighted. The show is not just about cooking exciting recipes, but also about how to get familiar with your own kitchen and maneuver around once you are in there. What's going on between the two hosts is constantly narrated for the viewers so they get an idea of how and what is being done - the show is full of descriptive video that explains everything - from a chef reaching into the fridge to remove an item to arranging food on a plate.

"What we see is what say (is happening in the kitchen)."

Along with cooking, the show also brings attention to eye health and gives tips on how to get independence in the kitchen. This show is a great resource for anyone with visual impairment wanting to please their friends and family, and be a rockstar in the kitchen! The show airs on Fridays at 7PM ET.

Check out Four Season on AMI's website for more details and to download recipes.

Source: Four Season on AMI via Toronto Sun

Image Source: G3ict (another great read about this show)

Monday, September 15, 2014

TALK: AAC Device That Converts Breathing to Voice

Sixteen year olds are always busy making great inventions, right? 

photo of Arsh DilbagiArsh Dilbagi from India is a finalist in the Google Science Fair 2014 with a device that is possibly going to change the lives of many people with developmental disabilities.

Arsh's invention, called TALK, is a new AAC device that let's a person with speech impairment and/or developmental disability to talk by using just their breath. The device has a sensor that is placed right below the nose or mouth, depending on the user. The user then breathes on the sensor in two types of bursts - a short burst for a dot and a longer burst for a dash. Yes, you guessed it right - this device is based on the Morse Code. These dots and dashes are then processed and converted into phrases and sentences by the internal processor and then sent to another processor that outputs the sentences into voice. 

TALK has two modes - one for communicating which is in English, and the other to gives specific commands which can be outputted in nine different languages and accents according to gender and age group. Arsh suggests that the price of TALK is only approximately $80 whereas other AAC devices that are generally used by people with motor-neuro disabilities can cost upward of $7,000. One significant advantage of this device is that since it is so small (the size of a cell phone), it can be carried by people with them all the time. They will also not be bound to a wheelchair to be able to use it. Another advantage is that people will not be twitching their muscles all the time thus causing muscle strains etc.

image showing how to use TALK
Click to enlarge
On a single charge, TALK can run for more than two days and is quite comfortable to wear.

Visit Arsh's Google Science Fair 2014 page to learn more about him and his project in greater detail. Don't forget to watch the videos below to get an understanding of what TALK does.

Source: Times of India
Image Sources: Google Science Fair 2014, NDTV

[Thank you for sharing, Savitha and Abhinav!]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

ModMath: Math App For Dysgraphic Children

This is another great story of how a parent decided to find a solution for her kid's disability by creating an app for him and several others who have dysgraphia and help them solve math problems on their iPads! This blog post was written by Dawn Denberg, the inventor of ModMath - an app designed specifically for people with dysgraphia.

One evening, after another homework-related meltdown, I voiced my frustration to my husband, stupefied that I couldn’t find anything to help our son.

When people ask me about the biggest stumbling block for my son, Henry, who has dyslexia and ADHD, I tell them that it is his handwriting. If they’re in the know about learning disabilities, I’ll use dysgraphia, the clinical term for horrific handwriting.

Speech-to-text programs, like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, are a godsend for kids like Henry. My son uses it for almost every subject. It’s useless, however, for mathematics.

This is a big problem because Henry’s handwriting is so bad that often he can’t read it. Because of his working-memory challenges, by the time he gets to step two of any equation, he’s not sure if the number he wrote down was a 4 or a 9. As for creating number columns neat enough to effectively add, subtract, multiply, or divide multi-digit equations, forget it. A 5 from the 10s column, for example, will migrate to the space below a 7 from the 100s column. The final calculations are wildly off base.

Our only option was for Henry to dictate to me how to work through each problem. I wrote down what he said. This was not a workable long-term solution, unless he wanted me to be his college roommate some day. Every so often, I’d force him to work independently. This resulted in frustration, tears, and disappointment.

We tried lots of interventions, everything from pencil huggers to alternative grip pens, and special paper with raised lines to keep his writing more uniform. Years of occupational therapy went nowhere, as did more controversial interventions like vision therapy. Through it all, I searched for an assistive technology to solve this problem. I queried teachers, learning specialists, and other parents in the LD community. I scoured the Internet for leads, but I found nothing.

One evening, after Henry had gotten through another homework-related meltdown, I voiced my frustration to my husband, stupefied that I couldn’t find anything to help our son. I wasn’t looking for a solution, just a sympathetic ear. My husband, though, doesn’t like talking about problems without talking about solutions. Sometimes, I feel like bitching, and sometimes he’s willing to listen. But sometimes we both end up irked by our personality differences. In this case, however, his pragmatism was a stroke of genius. “Why don’t we make one?” he suggested.

So began our journey to create a math app that could help not just our son but any child who struggles with dysgraphia. It’s called ModMath, and it works on an iPad. (You can download it on itunes.apple.com or on modmath.com). It eliminates the need for students to write out math equations longhand. Think Excel, but without a calculator. Kids use the touch screen and on-screen keypad to set up and solve problems. Henry can now work through complicated math concepts — multiplying multi-digit numbers, doing long division, and regrouping and adding fractions with different denominators. The app lays out assignments on virtual graph paper that can be printed out or e-mailed to the teacher. When a child does make a calculation error, his teachers see where he went wrong and offer guidance because the calculations are “written” clearly in front of them.

Don’t be too impressed with our ingenuity. We didn’t write a single line of code. My husband is a creative director and co-owner of a boutique ad agency. He regularly contracts with software developers to create content for clients. So we knew where to go to get the job done.

Friends and colleagues were incredulous that we decided not to charge for the product. “Anyone who has an iPad can afford an app that costs a couple bucks” was a refrain we heard a lot. We don’t disagree with that logic, but our goal is to get ModMath into the hands of as many LD kids as possible. If we don’t charge, the media is more willing to give us free publicity. This increases our opportunity to reach the children and families who need it most.

We hope to create a ModMath 2.0 with additional features. However, we’ve already over-invested in our first app. Download the app and let us know how it has helped your child. We’d love to hear from you at contact@modmath.com.

photo of dawn denberg
Dawn Margolis Denberg is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. Her 12-year-old son Henry, who has ADHD and dyslexia, inspires her daily with his ingenuity, creativity, and zest for life. She will be launching a Kickstarter campaign soon to fund an update to ModMath which will allow students to work out algebraic equations. She hopes to build an Android version with similar capabilities.

This blog post originally appeared on ADDitudemag.com

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spell Master: App That Improves Spelling Skills For Blind Children

Spell Master main screen

What's great about technology, especially in this decade is that everyone has access to a plethora of information and resources that can help them easily find and/or create exactly what they are looking for. This is a huge blessing when it comes to assistive technology because more and more parents are taking things in their own hands using technology to come up with accessibility solutions for their kids instead of waiting for a developer to create something and mass market! Spell Master, an app created by Ruchi Patil, is a great example of that.

Ruchi Patil is a mother of a 10 year kid who is blind. He is a voracious reader and an exceptional
Spell Master menu JAWS user. But because he couldn't practice how to spell words using a computer, his spellings were a little weak. To take care of this problem, Ruchi went on to create an iPad app that lets him practice spellings on the go! She emails him a list of words that she wants him to practice and he emails her the results right away straight from Spell Master. Since it is on the iPad, it is more like a game which helps in garnering more of kids' interest and attention. Ruchi's son also attaches an external keyboard to his iPad to type into it. Spell Master also allows kids to test their spellings in various other languages besides English. Sample tests for French, Spanish, and Hindi are included in the app.

It's a simple yet great concept for teaching visually impaired children at a very young age to spell words right. Spell Master is available on the app store for $4.99 and requires iOS 7.0 or later.

The app in itself is amazing, but it is  also a great step towards encouraging parents to develop apps for their kids and loved ones to fulfill their needs!

iTune Store Link: Spell Master