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Testing Sign Language by Cell Phone

Testing Sign Language by Cell Phone

Photo: Student signing in front of a cell phone 

Engineers are developing the first device able to transmit American Sign Language over U.S. cellular networks. The tool is just completing its initial field test.

"This is the first study of how deaf people in the United States use mobile video phones," said project leader Eve Riskin, a University of Washington (UW) professor of electrical engineering.

The MobileASL team has been working to optimise compressed video signals for sign language. By increasing image quality around the face and hands, researchers have brought the data rate down to 30 kilobytes per second while still delivering intelligible sign language. MobileASL also uses motion detection to identify whether a person is signing or not, in order to extend the phones' battery life during video use.

Transmitting sign language as efficiently as possible increases affordability, improves reliability on slower networks and extends battery life, even on devices that might have the capacity to deliver higher quality video.

This summer's field test is allowing the team to see how people use the tool in their daily lives and what obstacles they encounter. Eleven participants are testing the phones for three weeks. They meet with the research team for interviews and occasionally have survey questions pop up after a call is completed asking about the call quality.

In the first two and a half weeks of the study, some 200 calls were made with an average call duration of a minute and a half, researchers said. A larger field study will begin this winter.

"We know these phones work in a lab setting, but conditions are different in people's everyday lives," Riskin said. "The field study is an important step toward putting this technology into practice."
Most study participants say texting or e-mail is currently their preferred method for distance communication. Their experiences with the MobileASL phone are, in general, positive.

"It is good for fast communication," said Tong Song, a Chinese national who is studying at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. "Texting sometimes is very slow, because you send the message and you're not sure that the person is going to get it right away. If you're using this kind of phone then you're either able to get in touch with the person or not right away, and you can save a lot of time."

Some students also use video chat on a laptop, home computer or video phone terminal, but none of these existing technologies for transmitting sign language fits in your pocket.

REHACARE.de; Source: University of Washington

- More about the University of Washington at www.uwnews.org

 
 

( Source: REHACARE.de )

 
 

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