Life can be very hard for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. There’s the frustration that comes when people simply have trouble communicating with you. Unfortunately, for many of the 370 million deaf people in the world, their inability to communicate is often perceived as an intellectual handicap which is likely preventing some very brilliant minds in our society from reaching their full potential. Ryan Hait-Campbell, CEO and founder of Alameda, California based MotionSavvy, is one of those brilliant minds. He, along with his colleagues who are all also deaf, have developed a groundbreaking technology that combines the latest in motion sensing and mobile computing called the UNI.
UNI consists of three parts: a tablet computer, a specially-designed smart case, and a mobile app. The smart case contains hardware from Leap Motion and consists of a couple of cameras to track the location of both the user’s hands and fingers. The app, which is powered by the tablet, translates the hand and finger movements of sign language into audible speech or text displayed on the screen. The app in turn can also translate spoken word into written text for the deaf person to read.
UNI does more than simply interpret; it also learns. Just like spoken language, sign language consists of various “dialects” and “accents”. UNI learns your own style of signing as you train it to improve its accuracy. It will also grow smarter through a database of new gestures and terms that are “crowdsigned” by its users.
When we met up with Ryan to chat about UNI on the eve of their launch on Indiegogo, he explained how it was developed with different groups of people in mind. The deaf and hard of hearing will of course benefit by not having to pay for an interpreter and being able to use UNI in casual, spontaneous conversations. Employers will benefit as they can be completely compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and focus on hiring the best talent regardless of a hearing disability. Even the government can benefit, as the cost of subsidizing UNI to help those who are deaf and hard of hearing is far lower than subsidizing translation services and other means.
Ryan also shared that he hopes that UNI’s technology will eventually find itself in all tablets and mobile phones, as the front-facing camera technology continues to advance. He also envisions bringing UNI outside the computer to be used for television and home automation.
Ryan and his translator and colleague Wade Kellard were kind enough to give us an impressive live demonstration of a working prototype of UNI:
UNI is available for pre-order today on Indiegogo for
$499 $198 ($99 immediate contribution and $99 when your device ships) and plans are to start shipping it by next fall.
More info and pre-order: MotionSavvy…