Huawei’s new artificial intelligence – it makes a great story!
This past week has been Sign2Sing week, held by the deaf health charity; SignHealth. This charity works to improve the health and wellbeing of people who are deaf. With different types of technology being developed in order to improve the lives of those with disabilities, for those who suffer from auditory impaired, it is no different.
Recognising that every child deserves equal access to literature, Huawei has developed a new technology to assist deaf children and their parents with storytime.
Advances in artificial intelligence have accelerated in recent years, affecting user experience for individuals and organisations alike. Efforts on security, for example, have meant that biometric systems are no longer exclusive to the storing of a criminal’s fingerprint but are used today to secure personal devices. They now also encompass a whole array of measurements, including iris scans, palm veins and DNA identification. Smartphone giant Huawei has shifted from such generic focal points to explore new ways in which AI can be used within their products to better society, with a particular objective of assisting children suffering with auditory impairment.
In partnership with the European Union of the Deaf and the British Deaf Society, Huawei have created a new piece of innovative technology to enhance story time and make literacy more accessible to deaf children and their families; literally bringing selected stories to life through sign language. The app uses optical character and image recognition, allowing the device to be held from anything up to a 45-degree angle for the words to be recognised – meaning children can use the app themselves without being expected to stay perfectly still. Once the child has chosen the book they would like to read, parents simply open the app on their Android device and pair it with the book in the Story Sign library. By hovering the device over the text on each page, friendly avatar Star – designed by Aardman animations, the studio behind beloved television stars Wallace & Gromit – will appear and proceed to sign the text.
Presently, there is only one book available in each language, but further funding by the EUD and BDS, as well as their new partnership with Penguin Publishing, means that a variety of titles can be expected in the near future. As the library grows, so will the usage. Technology of this kind means not only will children be able to incorporate the learning of sign language into their bedtime routine, parents will also be able to learn throughout the process too. The latter is incredibly important, with more than 90% of deaf children worldwide being born to hearing parents who are likely to have not have known the language prior to the birth of their deaf child. Due to the interactive features and fun character design, the app could prove to be equally as popular with children who are not audibly impaired. This would massively increase awareness and promote an interest in learning the language, perhaps even later influencing schools to implement it into extracurricular activities or as a language option.
There is one limitation of the app, however. Whilst the Android market share of over 80% means it is accessible to most parents, it would appear that deaf children within iOS households are somewhat excluded from this huge advancement within the deaf community. Since the app is not exclusive to Huawei devices, the company might have considered a gadget altogether separate from a mobile phone; not only including the iOS incompatibility but also making the software more affordable to parents who cannot fund a smartphone in the first place.
It has not been confirmed whether Huawei intends to make Story Sign available on Apple products, and as it stands, the only alternative offered on an iOS device is ITV’s Signed Stories, which lacks the interactive feature as all books are to be downloaded as a video through the app with a narrator performing next to it. However, with such demand for Story Sign we can expect to see competitors quick to respond, rendering this limitation temporary and the future of innovative technologies like these incredibly exciting.