Millions of people around the world use sign language to communicate and rely on a friend or a relative to interpret those signs on their behalf. Saudi inventor Hadeel Ayoub, founder of the London-based startup, BrightSign, talks about how she came to develop BrightSign, an AI-based smart glove that allows sign language users to communicate directly with others without the assistance of an interpreter.
What prompted you to start developing assistive technology?
I started developing the glove as part of my PhD degree, which focused on the use of gesture recognition for wearable technology. I was chosen by my University to take part in a hackathon organized by IBM for artificial intelligence (AI) for social care, and began looking for an application for gesture recognition with community impact. As I know sign language, it was easy for me to adapt and test the system I had been working on to recognize gestures for sign language and to translate them into speech. At first, the system was very simple, but the response I received after winning the IBM Hackathon, which highlighted that there was a real need for the technology, convinced me to make its development the focus of my research.
What is the scale of the actual need for this type of technology?
Millions of people around the world use sign language as their primary language. The statistics are glaring. Seventy million people are profoundly deaf and 230 million others are hearing impaired or can no longer speak because of conditions such as autism or stroke. On top of that, 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents and only 25 percent of those parents can sign, so communication can be a huge problem.
Our market analysis shows that just 2 percent of people with hearing impairment have access to the technology they need to communicate because it is either too expensive or cannot be customized to their individual needs. That is why my company, BrightSign, which I set up with my co-founder in 2017, is focusing on delivering an affordable and customizable product. Our glove is designed for anyone whose primary means of communication is sign language or who has hearing or speech difficulties. Our aim is to give a voice to all those who cannot speak.
Tell us more about your technology.
Originally, the glove came with a predefined sign language library. Users simply wore it, signed, and the glove translated their hand gestures into speech. However, after working closely with...