Software could benefit people with speech or mobility issues

Software developed by Aberdeen University scientists may enable people with impaired speech or mobility to control their domestic environments.

The software — presented at the British Science Festival 2012 — allows users to assign simple gestures to actions they would like to be performed in their homes.

According to a statement, a wave of the hand could action the curtains to open or a ‘thumbs-up’ could switch the lights on in a particular room. Wireless communication technologies — such as Bluetooth — are used to link the software to devices in the home.

Computer scientists at Technabling, a spin-out company at Aberdeen University, have developed the technology, which is a spin-off from the Portable Sign Language Translator (PSLT), a device for sign-language users to translate sign language into text, which is also being developed by Technabling.

The PSLT is said to be the first of its kind in the world that can be used on portable devices and allows users to customise sign language to their own specific needs.

Dr Ernesto Compatangelo, lecturer in computing science at Aberdeen University and founder and director of Technabling, said: ‘For some people, hand gestures are the only way of interacting with the environment around them because of speech impairments and reduced mobility, as a result of illness or an accident.

‘In the same way as they can use sign language to communicate with others, they can now use hand gestures to control the environment.

‘In devising the PSLT, we wanted to create software that enables independent living not only by addressing the individualised communication needs of signers, but also their ambient control needs. Notably, we are achieving this result using affordable, off-the-shelf technologies.’

The person using PSLT signs into a standard camera integrated into a laptop, netbook, smartphone or other portable device. Their signs are translated into text that can be read by the person they are conversing with.

PSLT development is funded by the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) sponsored by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and managed by JISC TechDis, a UK advisory service on technology and inclusion. It is anticipated the technology could be available as a product next year.

Compatangelo added: ‘One of the most innovative aspects of the PSLT is that it allows sign-language users to actually develop their own signs for concepts and terms they need to have in their vocabulary — essentially any gesture can be assigned to any given word.

‘It is this same theory that can be used to benefit those with limited mobility — so any gesture can be assigned to cause an action to happen to an appliance or device in their homes.’