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Researchers developing 3G phones for deaf people


By Rick Perera

(IDG) -- The next generation of mobile phones should help deaf people lead more independent lives, if a group of European scientists have their way. Hearing-impaired users will be able to call up news, weather and sports information in sign language from a video server via 3G (third generation) phones, give commands to their phones in sign language, and access a real-time interpretation service to aid them in communicating with hearing people.

A consortium of researchers from Germany, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. is working together on the project, called WISDOM (Wireless Information Services for Deaf People on the Move).

Scientists at a German technical university plan to incorporate the sign-language recognition technology they've been developing for several years, said Britta Bauer, a research engineer at the Rheinisch-WestfŠlische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) in Aachen.

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"For hearing people, if they have their mobile phone they have speech recognition; we would like to do the same for deaf people," she said. "So I could do the sign, for instance, for sports or news, and immediately the server for sports or news will appear. That's the kind or research area we have."

In laboratory conditions, the technology is already capable of understanding sentences of up to nine signs, with a recognition rate of 90 percent, she said. If a user makes a single-sign command to operate a menu, "it should follow it," she added.

Another feature in the works is a video link to a live interpretation service, she said. "If (a hearing person who doesn't understand sign language) is just sitting next to me, for instance, at a doctor's or a bank or something like that, and I would like to have an interpretation service, I call them up and they translate the sign language into speech, so I don't have to have my interpreter with me."

The European Union is funding WISDOM to the tune of 6 million euros (US$5.3 million) over the next three years, with a view to helping the 0.2 percent of the European public that is deaf and communicates primarily in sign language.

For now, the project is focusing on British Sign Language, and is recruiting test users in the U.K., said spokesman Johanna Lakeman of the British Deaf Association, a member of the consortium. Future plans include services in German and Swedish sign language, Bauer said.

Other consortium members include Vodafone Group PLC's Vodafone U.K. Ltd., Motion Media PLC, and the University of Bristol in the U.K.; L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co.'s Ericsson Espa–a Research Department (EEM) in Spain; and Omnitor AB, Envilogg Datateknik AB, the Örebrö Tolkcentralen Interpreters Centre, and Vaestanvik Resours in Sweden.


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