Cool Idea #7: Sign language messaging


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I should probably let them speak for themselves (bad pun), but I imagine that any mobile communication is difficult for the deaf. To my limited knowledge, phone calls are out of the question, text messages are tedious and ambiguous, and video calling is expensive and still in its infancy. That’s why this research project by University of Washington students is so promising. Essentially, the team has created software called MobileASL that works with the cameras built into video calling-capable cell phones. The software recognizes American Sign Language gestures made by one caller and transmits them, live, to the other caller’s device in the form of small files, presumably pictures. This idea is powerful because it is much less taxing than video is on users’ batteries, networks, and wallets. It should also be more accurate than choppy video calls.

All in all, this project has great potential, and I’m sure it will be adopted widely. The only dilemma I see is that two-way communication requires front-facing cameras, something that I’ve only seen on a limited number of devices. Hopefully, these will become more commonplace as competitors mimic the iPhone or as MobileASL gains steam.

For more information, including a video explanation, navigate to the project’s official website at mobileasl.cs.washington.edu. Alternatively, check out a blog post explaining more MobileASL features at From the Moon and Beyond.

Bonus: Feel free to let me know if you think that this sounds strange, but I’d like to propose the idea of calling the software ASCell for the sake of convenience.

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