Local entrepreneurs create device app that understands, translates sign language

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Some local entrepreneurs have launched a fundraising campaign for a device that understands and translates sign language.

Some local entrepreneurs are trying to bridge the gap between hearing and deaf people. And on Tuesday morning, they launched a funding campaign online. The device they're building could change millions of lives.

"The last 24 hours have been the most stressful time of our lives," said Ryan Hait-Campbell through a sign language interpreter.

Hait-Campbell couldn't wait to check his phone to see how the Indiegogo campaign he just launched is doing. He is raising money to build a device that could fundamentally change how he communicates.

Computers have talked for years. But this one's different. It actually understands sign language. And it also understands spoken words.

It's called MotionSavvy. And a fundraising video shows how it could one day help a deaf person have a one-on-one conversation with someone who doesn't know sign language.

"Really, I hope to give people the ability to live lives that they always wanted to live," Hait-Campbell said.

To do it, he assembled a team that's almost entirely people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

"My parents found out when I was 2 that I was hard of hearing," said Wade Kellard.

Kellard, an engineer, is building the first MotionSavvy device around a Windows tablet, but with something extra.

"What we have here is the leap motion controller," he said.

Leap Motion is the tiny 3-D camera often used as a game controller. It captures hand movement at more than 200 frames per second.

"That makes a big difference in being able to capture sign language, because sign language can be very fast," Kellard said.

Right now, the MotionSavvy device weighs about a pound and it's small enough to pretty much take with you anywhere. But ultimately, they want it to be much smaller; small enough to actually disappear inside your phone.

"Phones are becoming much less expensive, and more accessible, and this technology is also becoming less expensive and more accessible," Hait-Campbell said.

But there are hurdles to cross.

There are more than 15,000 signs in American Sign Language. The device currently knows about 300. And everyone signs differently.

"For example slow, slow, that's just two examples of one word, but there are two different signs for it," Kellard said.

But for the deaf community, it may well be worth the wait.

"Their reaction is always one of awe," said MotionSavvy financial and marketing specialist Michelle Giterman. "Their jaws hit the ground and I just see it over and over, it's a very common reaction."

To check out the MotionSavvy campaign on Indiegogo, click here.
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