There are plenty of things to take for granted in this life, and the ability to hear is one that most of the population does.
But not the team at MotionSavvy. MotionSavvy, which emerged from the Leap Motion accelerator AXLR8R, is building a tablet case that leverages the power of the Leap Motion controller in order to translate American Sign Language into English and vice versa. The entire 6-person team is deaf.
The MotionSavvy case embeds the Leap, and the MotionSavvy software leverages the Leap’s 3D motion recognition, which detects when a person is using ASL and converts it to text or voice. The software also has voice recognition through the tablet’s mic, which allows a hearing person to respond with voice to the person signing. It then converts their voice into text, which the hearing-impaired receiver can understand.
Founders Ryan Hait-Campbell, Wade Kellard, Jordan Stemper and Alex Opalka met at the Rochester Institute Of Technology, which includes a deaf-education branch, and built the prototype over a year ago.
The original MotionSavvy won third place in the ZVRS competition, which is what convinced Hait-Campbell that the product could eventually have consumer legs.
Right now the prototype only understands about 100 words, but Ryan and Alex hope to eventually crowdsource the “massive” number of signs necessary to make this an effective tool. There are many thousands of signs in ASL alone, and various different “accents” or ways it is spoken.
Over 800 deaf people have signed up for the beta test, and Hait-Campbell hopes that a consumer-facing product will eventually hit the market in September 2015.
He is playing around with a $600 price tag for the case itself, which includes a Windows tablet and a $20 per-month subscription for the software. MotionSavvy eventually wants to build apps on Android, iOS and Windows Phone, and have the hardware work with any mobile phone.
“This will allow a deaf individual to feel as if the product is an extension of her/himself,” Hait-Campbell says.
Hait-Campbell views this pricing as competitive with that of an average interpreter, at around $60-$100 an hour, but doesn’t think MotionSavvy will put interpreters out of a job. In fact, Hait-Campbell argues that MotionSavvy will create more jobs for ASL translators, as many more deaf people will apply for higher-level jobs because of the increased ability to communicate with colleagues who don’t know ASL.
This is especially poignant for international users. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates a certain level of accessibility for U.S. workplaces and public utilities. Many countries do not have such an act, and thus deaf citizens do not get the services they need.
“This will give deaf people the power over their lives, the power to lead the lifestyle they want to have,” Hait-Campbell explains. “That is all accomplished by being able to communicate. Being deaf is very similar to moving to a foreign country but never being able to learn the language of that country (and doing that for your whole life).”MotionSavvy is in the process of raising a $1.5 million seed round, with SOS Ventures (through the LEAP.AXLR8R) being its only current investor. Despite immense demand, it is still taking beta sign-ups here.