on July 10th, 2019

Kenya is becoming a hotspot for engineering innovation. Keen future engineers have been busy inventing, whilst simultaneously trying to get qualified in their country. They are doing this in the hope of benefitting Kenya’s future and working to solve its societal problems.

Roy Allela, a Kenyan software engineer, was inspired by his deaf niece to create something that would help him communicate with her better. He named the gloves Sign-IO, a wearable technology that can translate sign language for those who do not understand it. And now he is at work trying to make it more available for the broader public.

Pictured: Roy Allela

On his personal website, he wrote, “I have a background in Microprocessor Technology and I love doing moonshot projects with an interest in Machine Learning, Deep learning and the Internet of Things.”

His project won the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) grand prize in 2017. Engineers from the USA and India were also present, but it was Kenya that reigned supreme. The glove was also the runner-up at the Royal Academy of Engineering Leaders in Innovation Fellowship in London. It is now in the running for the awarding of the home-based Africa Prize for Engineering.

Allela is refining the portability of his gloves and is continuing to update it as he goes along so he can create the best, most market-ready prototype. The glove is built on the back of Intel’s Edison, which allows it to be mapped via what is called a Support Vector Machine. The machines implement machine learning algorithms that can learn and store the sign language used inside the glove.

The glove has five flex sensors mounted on each finger which Allela says ‘quantifies how much a finger is bent’. An Android companion app running a text-to-speech engine picks up the gestures being processed and vocalizes what the person is saying.

Allela’s niece has been his test subject for the gloves. Speaking to This Is Africa he said, “My niece wears the gloves, pairs them with her phone or mine, then starts signing.

“I’m able to understand what she is saying. People speak at different speeds and it’s the same with people who sign — some are really fast, others are slow. So we integrated that into the mobile applications so that it’s comfortable for anyone to use.”

Allela hopes that the gloves will help fight stigmas attached to the deaf community. And he says that he has tried to make the gloves look as cool as possible so kids will not be bullied for wearing them. He aims to have at least two pairs of gloves in every special-needs school in Kenya, according to This Is Africa.


Works Cited

Admin, ~. Roy Allela, www.royallela.com/iot/sign-language-glove/.

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