Sign language via cellphone

By , Staff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor

For people diagnosed with hearing impairments, using a cellphone can be tough. Speed of communication depends on how quickly someone can send a text message. Researchers in the US, however, have devised a way for two people to use American Sign Language via video phones. It’s a work in progress, with a field test planned for next year involving 20 people. Even so, a research team from the University of Washington and Cornell University says it’s holding discussions with a major US cellphone service provider about the work.

The big challenges are twofold: US cell data transmission networks crawl compared with their counterparts in Europe and Japan. And cellphones still use fairly slow microprocessors. Japan and Sweden reportedly have systems that would support video signing. But the US is playing catch-up. Still, the team reports it’s come up with ways of getting the most out of US cell networks. They compressed the video before it’s sent. And by having an individual sign at roughly face level, the team has developed a way to divide the image so face and hands have the highest resolution, while less important parts of the image go low-res. So far, the team is using phones from Europe, which can use the team’s software and have the right screen and camera configurations for a two-way visual chat.

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