Onlookers may ask what drove a 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? Answer? His love for a bright young family member.
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 basically converts 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 as a project that explores the development of a sign language to speech translation glove by implementing a Support Vector Machine (SVM) on the Intel Edison 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.
The mode of action translated in layman’s term simply means the glove has sensors attached to each finger. The sensors quantify 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. This app that was developed by Roy has literally given users a voice. The app allows users to set the language, gender, and pitch of the audio voice. His system even boasts an accuracy rate averaging around 93 percent.
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. Doing this he believes, will curtail the stigma associated with being deaf and having a speech impediment.
When asked about the impact of the invention on his niece he 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 the Sign IO app, he has also 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 basically seeks to shed more light on building computational algorithms to automatically analyze and represent human language.
As an innovator, he has won the Hardware Trailblazer award at its 2017 ASME (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) competition. In 2018, he was the second runner up of Royal Academy of Engineering Leaders in Innovation Fellowship. All in all it is clear that Allela’s technical acumen and compassionate temperament will ensure that he changes the world.