University of Washington engineers have created a mobileAmerican Sign Language device that uses a low bandwidth and has a high enoughquality that users can actually be “heard”.
This type of tech has been in the works for the past fewyears, and much has been made of the iPhone 4’s vaunted FaceTime asa means for letting the hard of hearing talk to each other over the cellulardata network. The problem, antenna issues aside, is that cellular devices likethe iPhone use a staggering amount of bandwidth to transmit video, even with anew sign language app that has just been released.
The other problem – because they never come singly – is thatin order for sign language over cell phones to work, the video signal, especiallyin the face and hand area, needs to be very clear. No one wants a “what did youcall my mother?!?” issue to arise.
Through good old engineering knowhow and brand-newengineering knowhow, U of W research has created the MobileASL device, which usesonly 30 kilobytes per second to transmit its video signals – ten times lessthan that of the iPhone and similar smartphones.
Right now, the device is based around several mobile phonemodels from Europe, but could theoretically be adapted to any mobile technologyin order to make for a more crystal clear signing experience.
Tiny: But Understandable
Currently, Mobile ASL is being tested in the field and awayfrom the lab to get a sense for how it actually works in real life and dealswith concerns like battery life, connectivity issues and general quality.Overall, the impressions have been positive, although many of the participantssay they still prefer texting or e-mail to the more onerous phone call, muchlike most of the hearing world prefers to avoid the awkwardness on the linewhen they have no idea what to say.
Seems like being awkward is universal.
There are still a number of concerns – mostly notably thatcell providers like to charge for bandwidth, which means that hard of hearingusers who employ the MoibleASL technology will always end up paying more nomatter how efficient video compression becomes.
Still, good on the U of W for looking at ways to make mobiletechnology useful for the broadest range of people.