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Sign Language Via Cell Phone

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the can-you-see-me-now? dept.

Communications 151

QuatumCrypto writes "A project is underway at the University of Washington to enable real-time sign language communication via cell phone. Because of the low-bandwidth wireless cell phone network, a new compression scheme is necessary to capture only the bare essential components of signing to minimize data transfer. Although text messaging is a viable alternative for everyone, signing — like speech — is a much faster and more convenient form of communication."

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TTY? (0, Redundant)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995350)

Not being deaf I can't really say, but seems to be TXT'ing would be the way to go. Get the providers to go with a special "hey I'm deaf, cut me a slack and don't charge me $0.10 per SMS" plan and go about your business.

Tom

Re:TTY? (1)

ClaraBow (212734) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995364)

You make a good point. What is the benefit of this technology over TTY or using text messaging?

Re:TTY? (5, Insightful)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995572)

What is the benefit of this technology over TTY or using text messaging?
I don't know what you or the GP means (in a mobile phone context) by TTY, but there is one definite benefit: immediateness. That is, lack of latency in message delivery.

When you send text messages back and forth, there's a delay with every delivery. For the equivalent of speech, this would be like calling the moon. Plus, you have to go into the inbox and open new messages all the time -- not very conversation-like or, for that matter, IM-like.

Re:TTY? (1)

ThePengwin (934031) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995638)

Well it seems the same effect can be achieved through a video conference...

Re:TTY? (3, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995682)

Well it seems the same effect can be achieved through a video conference...

And that's essentially what this article is about. Rather than using full-bandwidth video communication, they're trying to develop a compression algorithm that is better suited to signing (ie, capturing only the primary hand motions).

Re:TTY? (2, Interesting)

zakezuke (229119) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995776)

When you send text messages back and forth, there's a delay with every delivery. For the equivalent of speech, this would be like calling the moon. Plus, you have to go into the inbox and open new messages all the time -- not very conversation-like or, for that matter, IM-like.

I agree with the delay... but with T-mobile is it rather IM like on my nokia 6800 and 6010. In fact there is IM support. Again, speaking only for T-mobile... there seems to be two systems for IM... one is via a relay. It's rather transparent but for example on my 6800 which was geared for AT&T you have to plop in the correct relay number, or if not using the IM login you can receive texts and respond to them.

On good days it seems as efficent as IM services, on others there is a massive delay. There is also GPRS based IM software which is well, as IM like as you can get, because it is.

The big issue with TTD/TTY IMHO is a lack of compatability with, well, standard modems which come shipped with every PC, at least the last time I looked at it. Also there is a big issue with cost [computty.com] . I don't have contact with any deaf people who I don't know the current state of the deaf community, but the last I heard IM services and e-mail were gaining popularity over terminals since... well... your average PC is cheaper. If what I suspect is true, deaf uses already use IM for their basic communication needs, and does a great job of bridging the gap between the hearing and deaf world.

Now if they were going to propose... let's say... ASL data entry... i'd be hip to that jive. I might even learn it my self just for laughs.

Re:TTY? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17996206)

It allows the "Deaf" (with a capital D) to maintain their isolation rather than actually integrate with the rest of the world.

You see, they consider their inability to hear to actually be an advantage, and despise things like text messaging and cochlear implants that would allow them to be closer to normal.

Re:TTY? (3, Informative)

thevil (602459) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996240)

The benifit is that sign language is the first language for a lot of people.
English is their second language.

Sign language text and language (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17995494)

Not all deaf can just use text. Some know only sign and don't know any English. It is impossible for them to use TTY's or other text. And even if it is possible, it can be slow and painful. Learning English text when you can't hear is a very very difficult thing to master. Especially literacy in a second language when you're illiterate in your first language. Stefan Wöhrmann in Germany has had great success teaching German text to deaf, but he uses written sign language for teaching.

Re:Sign language text and language (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995658)

Sorry what?

If they know sign, can't you sign to teach them to read? I can't imagine someone being very functional in society without any written language knowledge.

Tom

Re:Sign language text and language (1)

KokorHekkus (986906) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995786)

If they know sign, can't you sign to teach them to read? I can't imagine someone being very functional in society without any written language knowledge.
First important thing to know: ASL isn't signed english - it's a language very much of its own. And for those who are born deaf it's their primary language. Most hearing people can learn a secondary language but with very different degrees of success and I guess it's the same for the deaf.

Consider the following thought experiment: imagine you growing up talking english with your parents, friends etc. Then when you start to learn text based communication you're only allowed to use, say, japanese kanji or written chinese. Most of us could probably do it if we started at a young age but I suspect a significant portion would be less than comfortable or even proficent using it.

Re:Sign language text and language (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995820)

I know that ASL is it's own language. I'm just saying if you have a deaf kid, you'd immerse than in English [or whatever the standard is] written text as much as possible as early as possible.

I wouldn't expect them to SPEAK it easily, but reading shouldn't be that hard.

Nobody "speaks" C, yet i can express ideas in that language easily.

Tom

Re:Sign language text and language (1)

admdrew (782761) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996934)

I think you're missing the point about ASL being a completely different language. It, unlike most spoken languages, does not have a written component. For someone who grows up in a completely deaf family and culture, it's more than just a language barrier.

You had the benefit of growing up with a language that was easily expressed in two ways, something those with ASL as a first language do not always have.

Re:Sign language text and language (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997486)

ASL still has a grammar right? Parts of speech (so to speak, er say, er... you know) and all that? Can you not explain in ASL what the letter a looks like? That it's vowel? that it's the first letter of the English alphabet? etc...?

It's like music, you'd think explaining something like a trell [sp?] or grace notes would leave the audience mystified, but it can be done. Even though English has no concept of a grace note, or staccato, or accented (forte), or lagato, or etc... Most people learn music by a combination of verbal explanation and hearing (along with actually playing it).

So you're telling me you can't sign the rules of English grammar, and then have them write a sentence or two?

How do you think 5 yr olds are taught to write and read?

I think you're assuming that only adult deaf people are taught to read. From what I understand they're taught written languages early on [after learning ASL or equiv].

Tom

Re:Sign language text and language (1)

admdrew (782761) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998238)

Sigh... I'll continue to feed the trolls...

ASL still has a grammar right? Parts of speech (so to speak, er say, er... you know) and all that?

Of course ASL has grammar; do you understand the concept of language?

Can you not explain in ASL what the letter a looks like? That it's vowel? that it's the first letter of the English alphabet? etc...?
How do you think 5 yr olds are taught to write and read?

You learned English phonetically, as do most hearing children. What does a vowel signify to someone who neither hears nor speaks English (or French or any other spoken language)?

It's like music, you'd think explaining something like a trell [sp?] or grace notes would leave the audience mystified, but it can be done. Even though English has no concept of a grace note, or staccato, or accented (forte), or lagato, or etc...

That's what written music is for. Written music (like English) is a non-verbal representation of sounds and phonetics. Besides, English *does* have have some of those concepts: accents exist and are used extensively in other written languages (didn't you say you knew French...?). We even have ways of manipulating cadence [wikipedia.org] in speech!

Heck, what if we tacked of all of the symbols used in music to the end of our alphabet? We already have phonetic representations of those symbols (go ahead; try saying "coda" or "clef" aloud), much like parts of our alphabet ("double-u," anyone?).

Most people learn music by a combination of verbal explanation and hearing (along with actually playing it).

Congrats! You just identified the largest difficulty a deaf person has learning a phonetic language!

If you wished to learn ASL or another signed language (which I urge you to do; you might understand this discussion more), you would have the benefit of being able to experience the language in its natural form. Those who are deaf do not have that luxury of spoken languages.

Re:Sign language text and language (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998440)

I'm not trolling, I just refuse to accept that deaf kids can't learn to read.

There is more than one way to learn a language than just hearing it. I heard pictures and moving pictures work well too... I never said it was easy. Hell, it's not easy to learn to read/write even as a hearing person.

I guess cuz deaf kids are inferior they can't learn to read like us hearing enabled folk [that was sarcasm].

Tom

Re:TTY? (4, Interesting)

KokorHekkus (986906) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995554)

The deaf texts a lot as well - one swedish article had a couple of deaf teenagers commenting on 3G phones and they used to send 500-1000 SMS per month. But a quick email exchange isn't the same thing as a actual live conversation (at least not for most of us)... just consider how the time gaps with texting/email makes it harder to judge the other persons mental state.

Another interesting trial project going on now in Sweden is "Translator in a pocket". It allows a deaf person to call a sign language translator who translates using the phone. Very useful for anything where you need a direct conversation with a hearing person and you couldn't plan ahead to get a translator and don't want passing notes (or what they'd use). Btw, 3G phones are very popular here in Sweden with the deaf and especially with the teenagers. I've heard numbers that something like 80% of all deaf teenagers have videophones.

Fun with deaf relay operators :) (1)

ag0ny (59629) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995996)

From the Phone Losers of America [phonelosers.org] :

EPISODE #3 - Deaf Relay Operators

This episode features my new co-host Mary, a relay operator. It also features songs, skits, messages, commentary, commercials and raps all performed by deaf relay operators. It's approximately 17 minutes long and the download is 15,597 kb. Click here to listen to it.

Most of the relay voicemail messages played are more than 10 years old. The message involving the terrorist blowing up a commuter airline, done in 1994, was left on my own voicemail by myself while hanging out in the Portland, Oregon airport. "Mahmoad" was my roommate's name. Other messages were left on my home answering machine by PLA readers that I don't know. Thanks to RTF who made the Shakesphere promo for us a couple years ago.

The people over at the Deaf Relay Message Board aren't too amused with this episode! Be sure to stop by and say hello to the board moderator, Clear-Conscience. There's some great messages there relating to relay prank calls and a lot of the ops think that they're vigilantes and will call back the pranksters.


The MP3 file is here: http://www.oldpeoplearefunny.com/sound/plaradio03. mp3 [oldpeoplearefunny.com]

Re:TTY? (2, Interesting)

SirASCII (694759) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995668)

My wife is deaf and I am hearing. I can tell you that there is a huge difference between using a system of IM/SMS/TTY vs using sign language. It can be basically summed up as the same difference between singleplex and multiplexing. With video you have the ability of bidirectional communication and faster throughput of words. Which is the difference between a 5 minute conversation to a 30 second one. My wife can type about 70-80 wpm, yet she can sign many times faster... Recently we had a VRS (Video Relay System) unit installed at our house, now I don't see how we could function without it... It is like getting broadband.

Re:TTY? (1)

Lord Iffy Boatrace (1054766) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995730)

I don't know of any providers (here in the UK at least) that offer a reduction for the deaf. You can, however, get a reduction from the government on the TV license fee ("TV tax", or the fee we pay so that the BBC can broadcast free to the rest of the world, grrr) if you are registered as blind. You can also get a reduction if your TV is a black and white set. Which for some reason has always struck me as funny, as a blind person wouldn't know to claim for the second reduction.

Re:TTY? (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995764)

Last I checked BBC sells it's feed to other broadcasters. They'd be stupid to just give it away.

That and most of the rest of the planet only gets BBC World [the news] not BBC 1-4. :-(

Tom

Re:TTY? (1)

rubyfreak (740239) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995852)

Both yes and no. As others have mentioned, deaf people use SMS as much as the next guy. However, written language is extremely un-intuitive for deaf people. For someone who is deaf from birth, it's just sequences of meaningless symbols, and even the grammar is different. Which isn't that strange when you think about it - remember, their native language is sign language, not English.

Being able to communicate with your friends in your native language is something we take for granted, but to the deaf community this isn't always the case. That is why sign language via cell phones is turning into such a big thing. Here in Sweden, lots and lots of deaf people have switched to 3G phones with video ability because of that.

Re:TTY? (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995898)

As someone who speaks English and French, can express ideas in a half dozen programming languages, and can read music ... I say so what.

What do you think a musical score is? Bunch of meaningless symbols, lines, dots and squiggles [to the untrained eye].

I know I'm talking out my ass, but I really have a hard time believing that deaf children cannot be taught to read a written language. Kids are very versatile and also have all the time in the world to study.

Sure, maybe an a deaf adult who never learned to read may have a very hard time at it, but a 4-5 year old should be able to [start] sort it out.

Tom

Re:TTY? (1)

Cyclopedian (163375) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997582)

Not all deaf-from-birth people end up being raised on sign language.

I'm born deaf. I was raised on written and spoken English, known as "oral education".

I do know sign language, but not until I had entered high school. By then, my understanding of the English language was quite solid.

-Cyc

Video calls (4, Interesting)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995356)

I've already seen sign language being used over video calls. Then again, as one who volunteers with autistic children, I've seen a lot of super-use of technology and hands...

Re:Video calls (1)

twoshortplanks (124523) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995380)

Just out of curiosity, how does this work? Did they get someone else to hold the phone for them, or can ASL work with only one hand?

Re:Video calls (3, Informative)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995458)

Yes, we hold the phone for him. I've also got a Nokia 6280 with video calls. The video calls at 0.46 NIS/m are cheaper than regular phone calls at 0.67 NIS per minute. The boy is question is not only autistic but also mostly deaf. What's interesting is watching young kids talk on the phone. Even on a non-video call they nod yes and no.

ob: pr0n gag (1)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995448)

I've seen a lot of super-use of technology and hands...
... and we're all very familar with that around here.

Re:ob: pr0n gag (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995488)

There was more than a bit of humour in that comment. Sadly, this very last weekend I saw a blue Samsung turn brown...

Great (-1, Flamebait)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995358)

Marvellous. So instead of getting deafened by all the idiots shouting (why do they do that? Is it because it's long distance?), I'm going to get elbowed in the face by them waving their hands around.

Re:Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17997998)

Wow. Seriously fucking humorless mods today.

Parent is not flamebait, it's funny

They're focusing on video... (4, Insightful)

Mr2001 (90979) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995368)

But there's another problem with using sign language via cell phone. Look at the screen mock-up on that page - it shows the signers from the waist up. If your phone is far enough away that it can capture your whole body, how are you going to see the screen?

Also, they claim "The current wireless telephone network has inadvertently excluded over one million deaf or hard of hearing Americans", but it's easy to get a cell phone that supports TDD [phonescoop.com] , just like a wired phone.

Re:They're focusing on video... (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995648)

> If your phone is far enough away that it can capture your whole body,
> how are you going to see the screen?

It doesn't need to capture the whole body. Waist-up is adequate for ASL and probably most other sign languages. Deaf people want to communicate while seated, as well as while standing, so gestures involving the lower body are not used much.

Of course, people with impaired vision might have trouble seeing it even at a distance that captures from the waist up only, but the goal here isn't to solve the Helen Keller problem. That's a more difficult one to tackle for remote communication.

Re:They're focusing on video... (1)

Helen Keller (842669) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995672)

but the goal here isn't to solve the Helen Keller problem.
MmmngfskyOU!

Re:They're focusing on video... (1)

zigziggityzoo (915650) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996040)

You don't understand. TDD (also called TTY among Deaf) is not a primary mode of communication. Just as Hearing people's primary mode of communication is talking, Deaf people's primary mode is sign language. In this regard, the Deaf population has been left behind.

What's happening now is that the existing network is being retrofitted for something that it was not originally designed for. In the U.S., it's fairly impossible to achieve a truly useful ASL communications device with the lack of high speed cellular service. There are many devices on the international market already that would be more than fitting to use as such a device. Now, as usual, we must wait on the service operators to catch up.

Re:They're focusing on video... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998266)

So, everybody else, note the capital D in the word deaf used by parent.

This is not about helping people communicate, this is about helping people separate themselves from the rest of the world.

Remember, the deaf are people who can't hear. The Deaf are bigoted morons who think hearing is bad. They're MUCH worse than the French.

They even do things like intentionally try to have deaf children, and when they do, they try to turn them into Deaf children.

Re:They're focusing on video... (2, Interesting)

accessbob (962147) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996238)

I was at a presentation of their paper on this in Portland last year: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1169001&jmp= cit&coll=ACM&dl=ACM&CFID=14265233&CFTOKEN=82641255 #CIT [acm.org] From the abstract: "...techniques that exploit the visual nature of sign language. Inspired by eyetracking results that show high resolution foveal vision is maintained around the face, we studied region-of-interest encodings (where the face is encoded at higher quality) as well as reduced frame rates (where fewer, better quality, frames are displayed every second). At all bit rates studied here, participants preferred moderate quality increases in the face region, sacrificing quality in other regions. They also preferred slightly lower frame rates because they yield better quality frames for a fixed bit rate. These results show promise for realtime access to the current cell phone network through signlanguage-specific encoding techniques." Bob

Re:They're focusing on video... (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996436)

it's easy to get a cell phone that supports TDD

That's all well and good, but that requires carrying around a TDD keyboard in addition to the cellphone. Those things aren't small. It also requires that the receiving party also have a TDD, unless the cellphones know to display the TDD text on their tiny screens.

How do you hold the cell phone? (4, Insightful)

niconorsk (787297) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995372)

The technology for this is very cool and all, but I don't see it as very applicable to use with cell-phones. As far as I know requires the use of both hands, so you would have to put down your phone in a way that you can be seen and you can see the screen and lastly without holding it. This seems like an impossible proposition. But the technology in its own right could be very interesting, at least for desktop video-conferencing units.

Re:How do you hold the cell phone? (1)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995456)

I know requires the use of both hands, so you would have to put down your phone in a way that you can be seen and you can see the screen and lastly without holding it

That was my first thought as well, but it will be nice to have the software ready for when little wireless spec displays & cameras are available (if they haven't thought of a solution already).

Language-agnostic? (2, Insightful)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995374)

I hope this compression scheme won't be tied to the semantics of a single sign language like ASL. There are plenty of other sign languages in the world, so hopefully this tech will be "language-agnostic", so to speak.

Re:Language-agnostic? (1)

niconorsk (787297) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995402)

Well, the main page of the site have two pictures showing examples of skin detection algorithms and motion vectors as the main tools, so that should be pretty language independent. Personally, skin detection algorithms bug me. They're fairly simple solutions for face and hand tracking and work well under the assumption that everybody has the same color of skin, but we all know this isn't really the case.

Re:Language-agnostic? (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995698)

They're fairly simple solutions for face and hand tracking and work well under the assumption that everybody has the same color of skin, but we all know this isn't really the case.

Well, there's a pretty simple solution to this problem. We just need to pass some legislation stating that you can't be deaf unless you have a certain skin tone.

Re:Language-agnostic? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17996338)

ASL
14/f/cali

...sorry, that was a reflex.

Re:Language-agnostic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17997748)

A reflex?

Is that you, Agent Sloan?

Re:Language-agnostic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998170)

This has got to be the most amusing comment I have seen. I love how hearing people try to think of limitations with a device that involves communicating outside of their default parameters (voice box) and then assume wild and wacky things like above.

FYI, this would be a lot like stating your cell phone only works with your specific language. :)

Makes sense (3, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995408)

I often use sign language to people using cell phones while they're driving.

Hmmm (2, Funny)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995474)

I still think deaf people should communicate by getting to kick non-deaf people in the crouch. It works similiar to morse code, but with "crunches" and "squishes" instead of "dots" and "lines".

But I'm one for giving handicapped people excuses to hurt the rest of us. It just seems fair. And I wear a cup.

Re:Hmmm (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995662)

> I still think deaf people should communicate by getting to kick non-deaf people

Somehow, I don't think that would improve their relations with the rest of society.

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17996476)

Have you patented that yet?

Babel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17995538)

Anybody seen Babel yet? They already use sign language via cell phones.

Re:Babel (1)

Psx29 (538840) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995814)

Mod parent up, I was gonna write the same thing but searched to see if anyone wrote it first and well, yeah what he said They did it in babel.

no subject (5, Informative)

UnixSphere (820423) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995546)

"What is the benefit over txt messaging?"

Sign language is much faster obviously, and sign language is based alot on the user's emotions and how they use a certain sign or signs.

But to answer the parent's question, none of the cell phone carriers offer a price break for deaf/hard of hearing users.

BUT the deaf community is fond of using the t-mobile sidekick, all versions, because of the relatively cheap unlimited txt/data plan that comes with it. Sidekicks are almost dominant among deaf people. Some deaf tech sites and companies offer the sidekicks significantly cheaper to deaf users since it is so popular among them.

Re:no subject (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995612)

A while back, I had a neighbor who was deaf. I helped him and his hearing wife with their computer a few times for free. (And not out of pity, because I didn't know he was deaf when his wife asked for the help.)

Anyhow, he also used a sidekick. Unfortunately, I know this because I found it in the parking lot, run over.

He was a nice guy, but a little too eager to communicate with other people. He came across as simple because of it, but I don't think he really was.

Re:no subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17996128)

It's interesting that the deaf community would settle on a phone that has a built-in keyboard to make texting easier.

It got me thinking - why not offer morse code texting? One button for dashes, one for dots, one for spaces. Once the user has memorized the alphabet (it really doesn't take that long), the input would be significantly faster than typing a text message on a cell phone that has 3 or 4 letters associated with each digit.

morse too slow? (1)

fantomas (94850) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997078)

Don't some morse characters have 5 or 6 dots or dashes? what's the average length of a character in morse? I would have thought that the current phone keyboards where most characters are between 1 and 4 characters away would be faster. Plus the cognitive leap of having to learn another intermediary language... ? All numbers on a current keyboard are one key press, how does this compare to morse?

Re:no subject (1)

Evanisincontrol (830057) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997386)

why not offer morse code texting?


Because it would be an order of magnitude slower. As another reader commented, some letters in morse code have 5 or 6 dashes/dots associated with them. Worst case, on a regular phone, you only have to press a button four times to get the letter you need. Secondly, once you've spent a few weeks becoming accustomed to the letter layout on a standard cellphone, you don't even need to think about where the letters are; you know instinctively which button to press and how many times. You'd be surprised at how fast I can type a text message; the deafies are even faster. (Note: I attend Rochester Institute of Technology, which has 1,500 deaf students. "Deafie" is not a slanderous or degrading term.)

Anyway, it's all a moot point, because as the GP pointed out, T-Mobile Sidekicks are huge among the deaf community. And honestly, even featuring a full-size keyboard, the Sidekick is only about twice the size of a standard cellphone. It still fits in your pocket, and rests nicely on your hip in a holster. Plus, it's handy for techy-nerd types (like me) who need access to AIM frequently while on the go, without needing to break out a laptop and find Wi-Fi. The ~$250 price tag is the only reason I haven't sprinted out to buy one yet.

Disclaimer: I am not a sales rep for T-Mobile.

Re:no subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17996304)

I just bought Verizon vCasts for my brother and his wife who are deaf and txt messaging has changed their lives. Something as simple as "get milk on way home," something that most of take for granted, is a new experience for them.

The vCast and most new cell phones do have support for TDD (TTY) but requires you actually have a TDD device with you, which range in size from a small laptop to a PSP. IM on most phones provides the same experience as TDD for the deaf and is a good solution for real-time conversations, but still much slower than signing.

The cost of the hardware is not the problem. The real legitimate bitch that the deaf community has, and rightly so in my opinion, is you cannot buy a cool qwerty mobile, or any phone, without getting a voice plan. Text only plans do not exist, so the deaf end up spending $30-$50/month for something they never use. I will say that Verizon has a generous txt plan for $5/month, but it doesn't seem fair to require a voice plan.

Terrorists!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17995574)

Now the NSA *really* has to watch us...

Low-bandwidth (1)

traveller604 (961720) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995576)

I wouldn't call 3g exactly low-bandwidth and you can't even make video calls in older networks.. so yeah - WTF is the submitter on?

Too complicated. Doomed to fail. (2, Funny)

robably (1044462) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995582)

No, what you need is a pair of wiimote-like gloves that you wear which are connected to a tiny robot monkey on the recipients cellphone that mimics your movements. The recipient, in turn, wears another pair of gloves which are connected to the robot monkey on your phone.

OK, so instead of a robot monkey you could have a little animated monkey on your display, but a robot monkey would be better. Tiny robot monkeys is how Apple will implement it on the iPhone while the rest of the industry just has animated monkeys. Either way, watch for "signing monkeys" on Google Trends.

WiiGloves! (1)

KaOsx42 (1024539) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995706)

The video call at a distance is just awkward. I suppose in certain situations even that can be valuable, but as an everyday thing I don't see it happening.
I agree, wiigloves would be the way to go. The way that they show the video analysis is similar to what artificial intelligence geeks have been trying for years at to give robots sight - with little success. It's not what the sign looks like that's important, it's the motion, so video capture is totally unnecessary. Besides, motion capture data is far smaller than video data - they probably wouldn't have any problem at all if they just stuck to motion capture and displayed it on a little monkey animation on the recipient's cell (deaf-to-deaf).
For deaf-to-speech, the call could be routed through a 3rd party server to translate the motion to any language-allowing the call to be sent to any regular phone.

that doesnt make sense (1)

digitalsushi (137809) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995586)

Although text messaging is a viable alternative for everyone, signing -- like speech -- is a much faster and more convenient form of communication

Speech is flavored in languages, like text. So speech is not convenient at all if this is what they are saying. Otherwise, signing is not more convenient because only a small fraction of people already know it. I'm confused. Someone explain it to me.

Re:that doesnt make sense (1)

NekSnappa (803141) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996316)

In this context signing should be treated as a dialect. Because just like speech, the way the hands move can be used to indicate inflection (flavored) more easily than texting.

As for not many people knowing sign. I would say that since cell phones are a more personal means of communication, most calls would be with friends and family who do sign.

Re:that doesnt make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17997278)

Otherwise, signing is not more convenient because only a small fraction of people already know it. I'm confused. Someone explain it to me.

They are implying a conversation between two deaf people (or a hearing person who knows sign).

For some things I find typing (on a real keyboard, on a computer, not a phone's keypad) faster, but for other things I find sign to be faster. The problem with me, though, is that I have a lot of practice typing, and comparatively little practice signing. However, when I was sharing a house with a deaf friend, I became much more fluent in sign (more Signed English than ASL, but they're quite close). I am only hearing impaired, not deaf.

From the pictures they show, the implementation looks questionable to me. Maybe for a deaf person who really is fluent it would work, but for myself there is too much of the picture missing (including cropping way to close to the hands and face) for me to understand what the other person is saying.

Re:that doesnt make sense (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998654)

You don't understand. The Deaf (with a capital D) aren't interested in what you have to say.

It's much like expecting the KKK to be interested in your opinion if you're black, or the Nazis wanting the opinions of a Jew.

Don't get me wrong, lots of deaf people are really nice. But the Deaf are not.

I know a few deaf people and (2, Informative)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995602)

They are flocking to the Sorenson VP-100 system.

I cannot, for the life of me understand this, when there
are so many video based chat sites on the net.

All the deaf people I know have PC's. I met my first
deaf friend on the old BBS's. In the text messages on
FIDOnet.

I would not want a deaf user signing while driving :P

Re:I know a few deaf people and (1)

UnixSphere (820423) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995934)

Because the Sorenson VP allows deaf people to assign a phone number to it. So users can just dial the number directly to whoever they want to talk to that also has the same unit.

The quality on web based video chatrooms/clients is also not very good, not sufficient for real time sign language. The Sorenson VP is free as well, so some deaf users might simply not have a webcam but they can get this unit for free.

Re:I know a few deaf people and (1)

clickety6 (141178) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996278)

I would not want a deaf user signing while driving :P

It's like I learnt in Italy - you NEVER speak to an Italian when he/she is driving, because they are forced to take both hands off the wheel to reply to you!

Re:I know a few deaf people and (1)

woolio (927141) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996362)

I would not want a deaf user signing while driving :P

That might not be so bad... The ability to hear and use one's hands for driving don't seem to do much good for the vast majority of the public. At least deaf people would be are used to it.

Sign language and speech faster than typing? (1)

jonadab (583620) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995614)

> Although text messaging is a viable alternative for everyone, signing --
> like speech -- is a much faster and more convenient form of communication."

Umm. I type as fast as I generally speak. I *can* speak faster, but then, I *can* type faster too, if I don't have to stop and think what I'm going to say. I imagine signing would be similar. So I would think text messaging would be just as fast.

Unless the problem is that it's hard to type on the available input device. In which case, fix the input device.

I don't guess there's anything _wrong_ with developing technology to allow sign language to be transmitted over the cell phone network, but it seems like a harder problem is being worked on to avoid having to solve an easier one.

Re:Sign language and speech faster than typing? (3, Informative)

mr_matticus (928346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995850)

Either you talk too slow or you've broken some land-speed records for typing on handheld devices. Typical English conversation is roughly 200 words per minute. Most of the population can't type faster than about 60 words per minute on a standard keyboard, let alone a cell phone-sized thumbpad.

Even if you type at double that (120wpm), you're still typing slower than you speak. As for the input device, how would you go about making a pocket-sized keyboard as efficient as a desktop version (which you can put down and use all fingers to type--no such possibility with a cell phone)? Having to have the physical input device AT ALL *is* the problem to be fixed here.

Re:Sign language and speech faster than typing? (1)

KokorHekkus (986906) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996124)

Umm. I type as fast as I generally speak. I *can* speak faster, but then, I *can* type faster too, if I don't have to stop and think what I'm going to say. I imagine signing would be similar. So I would think text messaging would be just as fast. Unless the problem is that it's hard to type on the available input device. In which case, fix the input device. I don't guess there's anything _wrong_ with developing technology to allow sign language to be transmitted over the cell phone network, but it seems like a harder problem is being worked on to avoid having to solve an easier one.
One problem is that ASL isn't signed english but very much a separate language. To deaf-born ASL users english is their second language. In another post I made this comparison: think of it like you speak english every day but when you use text based communication it would be like being forced to use japanese kanji. So it's not about picking the "hard" or "easy" problem but picking the one that is most important to the users... giving them the ability to use their own language with mobile devices.

The project itself is interesting but it might not have any major impact on the deaf society. The current trend is to use 3G (where available) phones with plain video calls. But perhaps future devices will allow them do download codecs for their specific needs.

Re:Sign language and speech faster than typing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998382)

uh- no... it would have a huge impact on the deaf population, similar to when cell phones became available to hearing people. For example, technological barriers that prevented your wife from quickly calling you in the foodstore to ask you to get 4 other things while you are on the way back to the car was a major boon(?), and the market exploded, and now heairng people will be born with built in cell phones in a few decades. Esp if they live near a toxic waste dump, to or listen to toxic waste music and TV. ;)

the dicussion should rightfully be on what enables a culture to fully assilimate and be involved. text messaging has been a huge boon, but video messaging will be significant barrier to break down. Put money in any stocks that are working on that! Don't forget, those sidekicks, etc are already able to do most of this, you had a simple little built in camera like on the mac books (isights?) and figured out a way to send video in real time, that would be a huge door for the deaf and non-voice dependent communications. (think army guys using their silly "sign language" on these phones, before they proceed to do something)

the person who made a comment about ASL being a totally differnet language is dead on. That's why there s so much pent up demand in the deaf community. There's enough of them that would buy a device for video, that would never get text only. (cost/benefit isn't there, espcially for those that have extreme difficulty communicating in text english)

Hello, I'm on a train (0)

giafly (926567) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995630)

...thump, whack, slap. Sorry!

Nice on paper.... (1)

IAstudent (919232) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995644)

I'm having trouble seeing any way of this working at all, for several reasons.

First, cell phones are not known for capturing detail so well on their small screens. Is a phone, even a camera phone, capable of taking in a person's signing that well?

Second, there's already a phone that's found common usage with the Deaf: The Sidekick [wikipedia.org] . Several members of my university's ASL club use it as a regular communications device. That and I think you can also implement TTY on it. It's nearly the most useful method, if only you didn't have to fork out extra for such services.

Re:Nice on paper.... (1)

sim000 (721371) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995712)

Yes, camera phones with standard, already existing 3G video calls have sufficient quality that they can be used for sign language as it is. I understand this is quite popular in Sweden.

What I have a problem with is why should we develop a single-use solution requiring new phones and what-not when we have an underused existing technology (video calls) that already work well for this purpose? 3G networks are becoming so common that it can't be a bandwidth issue either.

In the (ear) of the beholder... (1)

gavink42 (1000674) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995720)

Seems like there are so many issues to overcome before this mode of communication would be realistic. Like many other posters here, I feel that texting would be more efficient and reliable. ... However, I'm not hearing-impaired, and my thoughts are based on that ...

The important thing is that if hearing-impaired folks find a new (and maybe better for them) mode of communication, then that's a good thing, and more power to them!

Re:In the (ear) of the beholder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17996170)

Just search this thread for Sweden or Finland and you will find that video phones are already very popular with deaf people. It's already reality and the deaf love it.

Just hack Wiimote! (3, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995742)

Another big chance for Nintindo. Can they hack the Wiimote to translate sign language to text?

Re:Just hack Wiimote! (1)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995864)

Sign language is more in the fingers, the wii-mote would be useless here.

Stop modding him insightful.

Re:Just hack Wiimote! (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996268)

Well, the Wii can handle four wiimotes simultaneously. You need something like ten motion sensors to do sign language. But sign language to text wiimote will be covered by medical insurance as a "medically neccessary prosthetic device". True, gamers are willing to pay insane price for the "in" thing. But the profit margins in medical devices is an order of magniture higher than game consoles. For example the bluetooth ear pieces are being thrown in as freebies or being sold at scrap yard prices. But the hearing aids covered by medical insurance sells for 1000$ a set!!!. More expensive than the entire damn PC.

I see a great opportunity for Nintindo to get into physiotherapy using Wiimote. Special medical consoles that can handle between 16 and 64 motion sensors will have superb market in professional sports and in physiotherapy. The profit margins in both the markets are just insane. Will Nintindo walk in and take over the market? Or will it let the lead evaporate within a year or two when both Xbox and PS3.x will have motion sensing controllers?

Re:Just hack Wiimote! (1)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997374)

Now that's an insightful post. I'm sorry I doubted you, but you really spoke like you didn't know what you were on about before. I still don't think that the wiimote is a good basis for a sign-to-texting device (making one at all is still a great idea), but using a wii for physio seems like a good idea.

There have been therapy-based consoles before, I seem to remember one for treating something like ADD that paused the game whenever the player stopped paying proper attention. If they improved the wiimote's sensors (there's a distinct deadzone with low-speed motion, especially noticable in wii-sports golf), then the wii could be great for physio or sports training, especially if the controllers were shaped and weighted appropriately.

Re:Just hack Wiimote! (1)

techpawn (969834) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996054)

With the use of fingers, it's more likely a modification using the old powerglove idea with wiimote tech might be a better idea.

Re:Just hack Wiimote! (1)

pbhj (607776) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998244)

I think you're joking. But just in case, in BSL at least, sign language relies on nuance to form different words - like lip shapes, facial expressions, etc.. For example you can do a sign for "lemonade" and for "to f***" (in the sexual sense, not in the fsck sense) that differ only in the facial expression.

Deaf kid (signing): Mom, don't forget to buy lemonade for Dad

Mom: Wait till I get home you dirty little brat!

On the road (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995800)

They've obviously not considered the impact this could have on driving while using your cellphone.

Take a trip with me into the future & meet Marcie, Marcie is deaf & uses a sign language enabled cellphone.

While driving on the highway (yeah, still no flying cars), Marcies husband signs to her over the phone that he wants a divorce so he can marry his secretary.
She swerves slightly due to her shock.
I, being the cautious driver I am ahead of her, look in my rearview mirror at the moment she happens to flip her husband the finger before hanging up on him.
I, being unaware that Marcie is deaf & using her sign phone, say "oh hell no !" & lock up my brakes.
Since Marcie wasn't wearing her seatbelt when she slammed into the back of my car she was ejected through the windshield & now is not only deaf, but paralysed.

There is a somewhat happy ending to this story though, since I live in Florida, there was no legal excuse for Marcie to rearend me & I got 10 million dollars out of the money she gets in her divorce.

Videophones (3, Informative)

Zarhan (415465) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995822)

At least in Finland, in cooperation with a Finnish hearing-impaired association, there's been some projects with 3G video-phones. Yes - selling a phone to deaf people opens up a nice new market :). Anyway, as far as I know the experiences have been overall positive - and no fancy sign-language-specific codecs or anything, just a normal 64kbps video phone call and a camera phone.

Sign language over mobile works on 3G already (4, Informative)

threepoyke (1063604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995944)

There is nothing new about this story. Sign language over mobile (cell) networks already works with regular 3G (UMTS) phones in Europe. Take a trip to Örebro in Sweden, which has a high concentration of hearing impaired due to a specialist education cent(e)r(e), and you'll see loads of teenagers using their 3G phones to talk using sign language. In the streets, on the bus, in cafes, everywhere. This article http://svt.se/svt/jsp/Crosslink.jsp?d=37482&a=5369 32 [svt.se] (in Swedish) from February 2006 even talks of the local social security services offering customer service to hearing impaired using 3G phones and sign language.

How about this... (1)

gpn (991395) | more than 7 years ago | (#17995992)

A better idea might be something for the blind that vibrates out text messages in a morse code fashion. I expect this has already been done somewhere though. Gareth.

Re:How about this... (1)

gpn (991395) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996070)

Actually scrap that idea.

Discrimination (1)

ebvwfbw (864834) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996312)

Hey, they are trying to leave us out again! First we can't listen in on them as they talk between cars, busses and trains. Now they want to use sign over the phone too? If we can't talk they shouldn't be able too either. It's only fair. OTOH, it would be nice to have a "finger" text key... to give someone else the finger.... maybe a talking milkshake giving the finger as recently seen in Boston?

I'm being funny.... mod +1, funny.

Sign Language Recognition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17996710)

Hi,

The guys at RWTH Aachen University [rwth-aachen.de] also work with sign language but their approach seems to be somewhat superior as they directly tackle recognition of sign language.

Communication for deaf and hard of hearing (1)

PogoTex (1063626) | more than 7 years ago | (#17996782)

As the father of a now adult deaf daughter I have seen the quantum leap of communication over the past 30 years. When my daughter was growing up the TTY was the only tool available to the deaf for communication. Each person needed to have a TTY and the speed was a blazing 48 baud using the old Western Union standard. Text pagers came along and relay services allowed the deaf to reach outside of the limits that existed. However, would you want to have an interpreter in the middle of every conversation you had with your teenager on the phone. Interpreters are intrusive no matter how hard they try not to be, I can't imagine the things they must see and hear during a regular day. These new tools really allow the deaf and hard of hearing a better chance of having a more normal life. Texting is shorthand and leaves out any emotion at a real level. Direct face to face communication is always better for everyone both hearing and deaf. The ability to see the other person adds so much to the complete communication experience.

Re:Communication for deaf and hard of hearing (1)

Anonymous Monkey (795756) | more than 7 years ago | (#17998474)

+5 insightful. I have a few good friends that work at Sorenson's(sp) Video Relay Service. Even the extremely high level interpreters have trouble with relay calls from out of our region as ASL as well as English change in different areas. Imagen a relay call between a hearing person from the south and a deaf person that grew up in england and knows BSL better than ASL and the interpreter is born and bread southern Californian. No mater how good you are, it won't be easy.

On a side note, a deaf friend of mine thinks it is funny that we need to pay for our phones but they get VRS and Sorenson's boxes for free.

Literacy rate (1)

itsnotme (20905) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997222)

To everybody who mentioned that txt'ing or using a TTY is probably just easier: it is. There's a catch though, the literacy rate of Deaf people is ridiculously low, so there's a lot of misunderstandings that happen through txt'ing or using a TTY. Using a sign-language phone (while in my opinion is ridiculous since there's too many gotchas using it) would be faster for a majority of the population rather than trying to think up of a word they're never going to think up.

For Deaf people who are literate, txt'ing is not a problem. The majority of the Deaf and literate actually grew up using BBS's. (That's if they were old enough to know it.)

Dumb, dumb..... (1)

Ernesto Alvarez (750678) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997468)

There's somthing very stupid with the concept of a sign language chat via cell phone. People are limited by the capabilities of a phone, and at the same time, given the capability, people will use it as they please. That means that no such 'sign language phone' exists (or will ever exist).

Either a phone has video transmitting capabilities, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there's no hope of having a sign language chat (unless we use CGI to simulate it, which would be fancy texting). If it does, then optimizing th video codec for sign language would seem a good idea....... until someone uses that phone to transmit a video of machinery in action, or a landscape, or anything not related to sign language.

Basically a video phone is a video phone, people will use it for whatever they want to. If might make sense to make a 'sign language mode' that activates a special codec, but I think it'll only confuse things.

Oh, and as lots of /.ers have said, those images in TFA look fake, you'll never get those from a real cellphone in the user's hands.

Signing is good, but an audio based cell? (1)

trainsnpep (608418) | more than 7 years ago | (#17997818)

Siging is good for the deaf, but the blind have trouble using cell phone because they all react to input graphically instead of audibly.

frost pi5T (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17998116)

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