Roy Allela – a young and ambitious 25-year-old technology enthusiast from Kenya, is not your ordinary inventor. He recognised that more than 30 million people around the globe have speech impairments and are facing difficulties when it comes to communicating with people who have no knowledge of sign language, so he made it the focus of his newest invention.
Roy, who currently works at Intel and tutors data science at Oxford University, has invented smart gloves which convert sign language movements into audio speech.
Roy Allela has a 6-year-old niece who was born deaf and had difficulties communicating with her family, who didn’t know sign language
Having recognized the need, Roy was inspired to create a tool which would ease communication. That’s how the idea of smart gloves came to fruition. They are called Sign-IO and have flex sensors on each finger. The sensors quantify the bend of the fingers and process the letter being signed. The gloves are connected to an app via Bluetooth, which then vocalizes the letters.
“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying”
Roy also added that his niece is very good at lip reading, so she has no problem in understanding what her uncle is saying. The young innovator has already introduced the gloves to a special needs school in a rural area of south-west Kenya. The feedback from the users helped to understand which part of the tool needed improvement, which was the speed at which the language is converted.
“People speak at different speeds and it’s the same with people who sign, so we integrated that into the mobile application so that it’s comfortable for anyone to use it”
The users of the app can pick their language, gender and even pitch of the vocalization. The accuracy of results is 93%. The audio is not the only customizable aspect of the gloves they can be designed in any possible way – from princess gloves to Spider-Man ones. According to Roy, it helps to fight the stigma of being deaf and having a speech impediment – if the gloves look cool, every kid will want to know why you have them on.
Roy’s smart gloves recently won an award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
The tech genius is using the prize money to improve the app and implement more accurate vocal predictions. He hopes to place at least two pairs of gloves in every special needs school in Kenya and believes that they could help millions of children worldwide with hearing or speech disabilities. “I was trying to envision how my niece’s life would be if she had the same opportunities as everyone else in education, employment, all aspects of life,” Roy told the media. “The general public in Kenya doesn’t understand sign language so when she goes out, she always needs a translator. Picture over the long term that dependency, how much that plagues or impairs her progress in life … when it affects you personally, you see how hard people have it in life. That’s why I’ve really strived to develop this project to completion.”