Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mobiles for the Deaf

Mobile phones enable people to communicate almost regardless of where they are located. However, since mobiles work on voice communication those who are deaf, hard of hearing or dumb need to use some alternate form of communication or send texts. Now engineers at the University of Washington have developed MobileASL, which allows people to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL) over cell phones.

The team at Washington, quickly found that the video quality not good enough to carry on a meaningful ASL conversation. ASL is not just about hands but also facial expressions and the ability to point to various locations.

The researchers found a process which used multiple steps to encode the video in real time using the x264 encoding standard. The software first identifies the important regions of the video using a skin detection algorithm, then by computing motion vectors determines how small the various macroblock levels must be to capture the areas of high motion in detail. Sounds very clever and complex for a mobile phone but it works and enables everyone to communicate, even on 2G networks. This is the first time two-way real-time video communication has been demonstrated over US mobiles.
Already their video on YouTube has had an impact with deaf people around the US enquiring about the service on a daily basis. The prototype is still in the lab but wider trails are now being in Seattle.

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