A team of engineers at the University of Antwerp in The Netherlands has developed a 3D-printed robotic arm that can act as a sign language translator for deaf people. Sign language interpreters are often in short supply, and so this research team set out to develop a low cost automated system that can translate text into sign language. “A deaf person who needs to appear in court, a deaf person following a lesson in a classroom somewhere".
"These are all circumstances where a deaf person needs a sign language interpreter, but where often such an interpreter is not readily available. This is where a low-cost option, can offer a solution,” says Erwin Smet, a robotics teacher.
“I was talking to friends about the shortage of sign language interpreters in Belgium, especially in Flanders for the Flemish sign language. We wanted to do something about it. I also wanted to work on robotics for my masters, so we combined the two,” says Stijn Huys, another engineer involved in the project.
So that it could be widely adopted, the team used affordable and easily sourced materials to 3D-print a robotic hand. The robot can convert text into sign language, and is not conceived as a complete replacement for a human interpreter, but could provide support when they are not available. The robot could also help a human teacher to teach sign language.
Unlike using a virtual hand on a computer, the robot can be easily observed from a variety of angles and more closely emulates a real hand through its physical presence. The team plans to make the design open source so that anyone can use it.