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UCLA Scientist Develops Gloves That Translate Sign Language

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Apps like Google Translate help us to express ourselves in many languages.

AUTOMATED VOICE #1: My name is Steve Inskeep.

AUTOMATED VOICE #2: (Speaking Spanish).

NOEL KING, HOST:

Now bio engineers at UCLA have taken the same concept and applied it to American Sign Language.

INSKEEP: They've designed a glove, which looks like a typical gardening glove except it's got wires running down each finger to a little circuit board.

KING: And as the person signs, a smartphone app speaks.

AUTOMATED VOICE #3: I love you.

INSKEEP: Jun Chen, who's an assistant professor of bioengineering at UCLA, led this project. He was inspired by his childhood friend.

JUN CHEN: When I was a little boy, actually, I have a friend, he has trouble hearing. And every time when I want to play together with him, we cannot communicate with each other very easily.

KING: He dreamed of creating a device for deaf people so people like his friend could communicate with anyone.

INSKEEP: So far, the glove recognizes more than 600 signs, which can be turned into spoken language. But of course, the glove will need to learn tens of thousands more, plus the various ways that people move their hands and fingers.

KING: Think of that like dialects or accents - but for sign language.

CHEN: So we have to train that device to fit each individual.

INSKEEP: Chen estimates it'll be another five years before his device will become commercially available. He says he can't wait to share it with his childhood friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARMS AND SLEEPERS' "SOME DIE YOUNG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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