Two undergraduate students at the University of Washington have created a pair of gloves that might just change the lives of people who are deaf. The SignAloud gloves can translate a wearer's signs into text or verbal speech, opening up doors of communication that had previously been closed.

Sophomores Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor were recently awarded a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for their invention, which they created during their spare time at school. The SignAloud gloves are programmed to convert American Sign Language (ASL) signs into words, allowing users to communicate with friends, family, classmates and coworkers who may not be proficient in ASL. They accomplish this using built-in sensors that record movement and gestures and match them to pre-programmed signs in a database.

Azodi and Pryor built and programmed the SignAloud gloves in their spare time at the University of Washington. Azodi and Pryor built and programmed the SignAloud gloves in their spare time at the University of Washington. (Photo: University of Washington)

Azodi and Pryor had seen other ASL translators, but they were bulky and/or cumbersome to use. “Many of the sign language translation devices already out there are not practical for everyday use,” Pryor told Mental Floss. “Some use video input, while others have sensors that cover the user’s entire arm or body.” Because the SignAloud gloves are lightweight and portable, Azodi and Pryor hope they could become as easy-to-use and ubiquitous as hearing aids or contact lenses.

“Our purpose for developing these gloves was to provide an easy-to-use bridge between native speakers of American Sign Language and the rest of the world,” Azodi said in an interview with his school's newspaper, UW Today. “The idea initially came out of our shared interest in invention and problem solving. But coupling it with our belief that communication is a fundamental human right, we set out to make it more accessible to a larger audience.”

While Azodi and Pryor were focusing on the deaf community when they designed the SignAloud gloves, they feel their invention might be useful in other applications such as teaching ASL to students or helping patients recovering from a stroke. Check them out in this video: