Kenyan inventor improves communications with wearable technology

Kenyan inventor improves communication with wearable technology

This case study was adapted from various news articles.


Roy Allela, a technology and data science expert, and the team at Sign-IO, Inc. in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Challenge:

More than five percent of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss – approximately 466 million people, including Roy Allela’s young niece and 34 million other children. By 2050, the World Health Organization estimates that number will jump to 10 percent, affecting more than 900 million children and adults. Unless someone is trained to use sign language, communicating can be very challenging for those with hearing loss, and even more so for those with speech impairment.

The Opportunity:

Sign-IO is an assistive, wearable technology that converts the hand gestures of sign language into audio speech with support of a smartphone app – helping those with speech impairment (i.e., deaf or mute) communicate with the general population.

How It Works:

The Sign-IO smart-glove has sensors stitched in that quantify the bend of the fingers and process the letter being signed. The data are then transmitted via Bluetooth to Sign-IO’s mobile phone application to vocalize the letters. Since users sign at different speeds, just like those who speak, a key part of the glove’s technology is adaptability to tailor the vocal output based on the speed of the input. The app also allows users to customize the audio output to facilitate increased understanding with specific settings for language, gender and pitch.

The Sign-IO technology won the Hardware Trailblazer prize at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) Innovation Showcase in late 2017, an award that helps engineering entrepreneurs turn design ideas with social impact into a sustainable business model. As ASME notes, “to create a truly innovative product that not only works, is scalable, profitable, and has a positive impact on society requires testing, design iteration, customer feedback, and design guidance from industry experts.” And, of course, underpinning all these steps is intellectual property rights which help protect and reward innovators for their hard work. With the support of ASME and other recognitions, Allela and his team continues to advance the Sign-IO to market.


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