Texas A&M engineering professor Roozbeh Jafari specializes in wearables—technology you wear that senses your body’s movement, heart rate, sleep cycles and more. Wearable products include the Apple Watch, Fitbit, Jawbone, fitness-tracking headphones and now—thanks to Jafari—a device that translates American Sign Langauge (ASL) into written English. According to the Fast Company Co.Exist story on the prototype, Jafari’s sensors make the device more cutting-edge and less intrusive than existing translation systems, which mostly use video cameras.
Similar to those already embedded in the Apple Watch, Jafari’s sensors interpret motion and electrical activity in the muscles of the wearer’s hand and wrist. In fact, he envisions the final product as a watch. The ASL words picked up by the sensors will then be transmitted via Bluetooth to a smartphone—either belonging to the ASL user or a person he or she is talking to.
The current prototype, according to the article, recognizes 40 ASL words with 96 percent accuracy. Jafari plans to add more words, transform the sensors into a watch-like wearable and eventually add other languages. He hopes his device will ultimately make communication easier for sign-language speakers. “The combination of muscle activation detection with motion sensors is a new and exciting way of understanding human intent,” Jafari says in an interview with Texas A&M’s newswise.