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Kinect Sign Language Translator:

By Chad Watkins


A great number of jobs require some form of communication with the public. Being a teller at a bank, working the cash register at the mall, and working the ticket terminal at the airport are a few examples. Jobs like these, while plentiful to most, are unavailable to members of the Deaf community since they are unable to communicate by sound. To work such positions, a translator would need to be present at all times to translate the questions and answers. Since translators cost a lot of money, people that are Deaf stick to jobs that don't require a lot of social interaction with the non-Deaf community.


However, dedicated researchers in China have developed a prototype system that not only understands the gestures of sign language, but will also translate them. Backed by Microsoft Research, developers call this the Kinect Sign Language Translator. The Kinect Translator looks like a small rectangle the size of a TV remote controller. It not only contains a camera and microphone, but also an infrared emitter and depth sensor. The operation of the system is very simple. A person simply signs toward a camera and the computer, using 3D and motion recognition, identifies the signs and not only translates into written words (displayed on the screen) but also plays an audio via speakers. A hearing person is able to speak normally, their voice is picked up by the computer's microphone, and an avatar on the computer signs back to the Deaf person. (Microsoft 2013)


The Kinect Sign Language Translator has been operational since November of 2010 (Microsoft 2013). It is very simple to use. You simply need to plug in the sensor, install the software, and start signing! The cost is around $250 for the sensor and software. Some make the claim that the system is expensive because it needs to go on each register station. While at an average grocery store with nine registers the cost would be $2,250, but just think of your average Target store that has over 20 registers! With 1,797 stores in the United States alone (Target 2013), it would cost Target over $9 million; and then there's the maintenance cost. However since it's backed by Microsoft, we can expect great quality, good resources, and could argue the many benefits between the Deaf community and the retailer.


One benefit obviously would be to open up a new variety of jobs to the Deaf community. In a typical scenario one is at an airport terminal, ready to rent a car. This can be very stressful to anyone new to the area. They go to the rental car agency where one person is either asking for information by signing or is giving out information by signing (Microsoft 2013). Both would be able to communicate in their normal manner thanks to the Translator and all parties would feel less stressed in a potential stressful situation. However, benefits are not limited to a work standard. The Kinect Translator could also be used at a doctor's office. Instead of having to go to a special doctor, or waiting for special aid, doctors can install the Kinect system and easily communicate with patients (Microsoft 2013).


The only question about the system though is its effect on the Deaf community. Will this device truly benefit the Deaf? Will this device force them into the world of the hearing? Or will this help the hearing to view the Deaf in a different light? This device could have the ability to help the hearing understand the Deaf and their culture. Instead of pitying them and trying to "fix" them to make them "normal", the hearing world may accept the Deaf as "normal" since members of the Deaf community do not see themselves as disabled or unfortunate. This machine could allow them easier access to opportunities that hearing people have, while not being forced to "fit in". New doors could be opened up, thanks to a simple translator.





N.p.: Target, 2013. N. pag. Web. 7 Jan. 2013. <>.


N.p.: Microsoft, 2013. N. pag. Web. 7 Jan. 2013. <>.


N.p.: Microsoft, 2013. N. pag. Web. 7 Jan. 2013. <>.


N.p.: Microsoft, 2013. N. pag. Web. 7 Jan. 2013. <>.


Clayton, Steve. N.p.: Microsoft, 2013. N. pag. Web. 7 Jan. 2013. <>.


Article Author: Chad Watkins
Submission Date: March 2014


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