Some may ask what drove this 25-year-old man with perfect hearing, no speech impediments, and novice experience with sign language to develop a solution to the challenges people with hearing impairments face.
His answer would be: his love for his niece.
With the desire to communicate effectively with his six-year old niece who was born deaf, Allela, was motivated to invent a set of smart gloves, aptly named Sign-IO. This piece of technology can convert sign language movements into audio speech in real time.
Roy Allela, a graduate from the University of Nairobi, holds a bachelor’s degree in Microprocessor Technology and Instrumentation. He considers his invention a project that explores the development of a sign language to speech translation. The glove implements a Support Vector Machine (SVM) on the Intel Edison in order to recognize various letters signed by users. The data for the predicted signed gesture is then transmitted to an Android application where it is vocalized.
Translated in layman’s term, this simply means the glove has sensors attached to each finger. The sensors measure the articulations of the fingers and interprets the letter being signed. The gloves which are paired via Bluetooth to an android application, then vocalizes the letters and has an accuracy rate of about 93 percent. The glove has literally given its users a voice as it allows users to tailor the audio to their liking by setting the language, gender, and voice pitch.
The Kenyan inventor who currently works as a technical evangelist and program manager at Intel, also teaches Data Science at the prestigious Oxford University. On his website http://www.royallela.com/, he describes himself as being interested in machine learning, computer vision and embedded systems. His goal is to oversee the installation of at least two pairs of gloves in every special needs school in Kenya and hopes this will curtail the stigma associated with being deaf and having a speech impediment.
When asked how his invention stemmed from his niece Roy says, “the general public in Kenya doesn't understand sign language, so when she goes out, she always needs a translator. Imagine that dependency over the long term; how much that plagues or impairs her progress in life. When it affects you personally, you see how hard people have it in life. That's why I've really striven to develop this project to completion."
Aside from the Sign IO app, Roy has collaborated with the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) as a key contributor to the DEEP NLP (natural language processing) project for document analysis and classification. This project seeks to shed more light on building computational algorithms to automatically analyze and represent human language.
As an innovator, Roy has won the Hardware Trailblazer award at its 2017 ASME (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Innovation Showcase. In 2018, he was also the second runner up for the Royal Academy of Engineering Leaders in Innovation Fellowship. All in all, it is clear Allela’s technical acumen and compassionate temperament will ensure he changes the world.