Robotics

3D-printable robot arm is a sign language interpreter

Project Aslan is a robot hand that can translate text into sign language
Project Aslan is a robot hand that can translate text into sign language
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Gestures were programmed into Aslan by way of an electronic glove
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Gestures were programmed into Aslan by way of an electronic glove
Future versions of Project Aslan will be able to translate speech into sign language, and ideally, into more complex versions of the language
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Future versions of Project Aslan will be able to translate speech into sign language, and ideally, into more complex versions of the language
Project Aslan was a collaboration between the University of Antwerp and 3D Hubs
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Project Aslan was a collaboration between the University of Antwerp and 3D Hubs
The researchers are currently working on a two-armed version of Project Aslan, as well as giving the system more of a body and even an expressive face
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The researchers are currently working on a two-armed version of Project Aslan, as well as giving the system more of a body and even an expressive face
Project Aslan is designed to be built almost anywhere, in order to help people in need where human interpreters aren't available
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Project Aslan is designed to be built almost anywhere, in order to help people in need where human interpreters aren't available
Project Aslan is hooked up to a computer, and people can connect to a local network to send text messages to the system, which will then translate them into sign language
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Project Aslan is hooked up to a computer, and people can connect to a local network to send text messages to the system, which will then translate them into sign language
Project Aslan can currently translate into fingerspelling, a sign language alphabet where each letter is communicated through a separate hand gesture
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Project Aslan can currently translate into fingerspelling, a sign language alphabet where each letter is communicated through a separate hand gesture
Project Aslan's plastic casing was 3D-printed in 25 parts
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Project Aslan's plastic casing was 3D-printed in 25 parts
Project Aslan is a robot hand that can translate text into sign language
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Project Aslan is a robot hand that can translate text into sign language
Project Aslan is designed to bridge the communication gap between the hearing and the hearing-impaired
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Project Aslan is designed to bridge the communication gap between the hearing and the hearing-impaired

A team from the University of Antwerp is developing a robotic sign language interpreter. The first version of the robot hand, named Project Aslan, is mostly 3D-printed and can translate text into fingerspelling gestures, but the team's ultimate goal is to build a two-armed robot with an expressive face, to convey the full complexity of sign language.

There have been a number of technological attempts to bridge the gap between the hearing and deaf communities, including smart gloves and tablet-like devices that translate gestures into text or audio, and even a full size signing robot from Toshiba.

Project Aslan (which stands for "Antwerp's Sign Language Actuating Node") is designed to translate text or spoken words into sign language. In its current form, the Aslan arm is connected to a computer which is, in turn, connected to a network. Users can connect to the local network and send text messages to Aslan, and the hand will start frantically signing. Currently, it uses an alphabet system called fingerspelling, where each individual letter is communicated through a separate gesture.

The robot hand is made up of 25 plastic parts 3D-printed from an entry-level desktop printer, plus 16 servo motors, three motor controllers, an Arduino Due microcomputer and a few other electronic components. The plastic parts reportedly takes about 139 hours to print, while final assembly of the robot takes another 10.

Project Aslan is hooked up to a computer, and people can connect to a local network to send text messages to the system, which will then translate them into sign language
Project Aslan is hooked up to a computer, and people can connect to a local network to send text messages to the system, which will then translate them into sign language

The manufacturing is being handled through a global 3D printing network called 3D Hubs, which is designed to ensure the robot can be built anywhere. This DIY vibe isn't to replace human interpreters though: instead, the team see it as an opportunity to aid the hearing-impaired in situations where human help isn't available.

"A deaf person who needs to appear in court, a deaf person following a lesson in a classroom somewhere," says Erwin Smet, robotics teacher at the University of Antwerp. "These are all circumstances where a deaf person needs a sign language interpreter, but where often such an interpreter is not readily available. This is where a low-cost option like Aslan can offer a solution."

While the current version can only translate text into fingerspelling signs, the team is working on deepening the system for future versions, in order to communicate more nuanced ideas. In sign language, meaning is conveyed through a combination of hand gestures, body posture and facial expressions, so the researchers are developing a setup with two arms, and there are plans to add an expressive face to the system.

The team is also experimenting with translating spoken words into sign language, and using a webcam to detect facial expressions and teach the robot new gestures, which is currently done by way of an electronic glove. Check out Project Aslan in action in the video below.

Source: Project Aslan via 3D Hubs

3D Hubs x Aslan Project - Sign Language Humanoid Robot

2 comments
MerlinGuy
Hey, if you're in college learning to program and build, it's nice to know that you focus on interesting projects. But... This sign language robot is just plain stupid. The major premise is that people who are deaf can't read. Why would anyone need to convert text to sign language when the deaf person can just read the text? How about an app that converts speech or text to a series of sign language images on the deaf person's phone. That way you don't need this bulky project and each deaf person can have the translate with them where ever they go. Just another answer in search of a problem.
VincentWolf
I agree with Merlin. What is needed is a 100% accurate voice to text app on a phone and an app on that phone which also 100% accurately can do both convert signs to voice and convert text to voice so that the deaf person can appear to be speaking (sound comes from the phone).
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