Sign Language is Google Translates Next Mission

Google engineers have recently had a breakthrough which could enable real-time translation of sign language, which it is thought, will eventually become widely available via a smartphone, tablet, or PC App.

Google have published algorithms, which it hopes other developers will use to make their own sign language translation Apps.

According to an article in The Sunday Times online, and another by the BBC, previous researchers attempting to translate sign language have struggled with the complexities of mapping hand movements as individual fingers can be obscured, and actions can be tricky to track when people gesticulate, making it “decidedly challenging” according to Google researchers.

However, the system that Google researchers have developed looks at a new way of tracking movements in order to give a more methodical and accurate translation.

By detecting movements of the palms of the hands in footage, focussing on that area, and mapping the hand through a combination of 21 coordinates such as, the base of each finger, the base of the palm, the finger tips and joints, a 3D skeleton map of the hand is created showing the hand in motion.

In order to achieve a high level of accuracy within the sign language translations, the Google team have manually annotated around 30,000 images using these 21 coordinates showing hands signing hundreds of different signs, all of which will be freely available for those wishing to use the hand-tracking technology according to Google research engineers Valentin Bazarevsky and Fan Zhang who developed it.

Google have yet to create their own App but the software they have developed, and freely offer, will go a long way to helping the 70 million people around the globe who use sign language as their mother tongue.

Google are said to be “excited to see what people come up with” in terms of using the technology to create Apps that offer translation services for those who are hard of hearing, and they suggest that they will “continue our research to make the technology more robust and to stabilise tracking, increasing the number of gestures we can reliably detect”.

Watch this space to find out how this exciting new technology progresses, and what it means for the translation industry and deaf communities around the world.

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