Scientists Create Robotic Arm Translator for the Deaf

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. interpreter / ɪnˈtɜr prɪ tər / (n) – a person or thing that can translate one language to another

    Patty is a French and Italian interpreter.

  2. mobility / moʊˈbɪl ɪ ti / (n) – the ability to move from one place to another

    Having a leg injury can decrease one’s mobility.

  3. portable / ˈpɔr tə bəl / (adj) – capable of being carried or moved

    Laptops are portable computers.

  4. convey / kənˈveɪ / (v) – to communicate or to make something known

    You can convey messages through speaking.

  5. full-fledged / ˈfʊlˈflɛdʒd / (adj) – highly developed

    Advanced technology makes it possible to create more full-fledged communication robots.


Read the text below.

Scientists at the University of Antwerp created a robotic arm that can spell out words using finger gestures.

Antwerp’s Sign Language Actuating Node or Aslan is a device that can translate spoken and written words into finger movements that deaf people can understand. The scientists created this device in hopes to help deaf people in situations wherein interpreters are not present to convert messages into sign language.

At the moment, Aslan looks like a human arm. To utilize it, one needs to attach it to a computer that is linked to a local network. Other people can connect to the same local network to be able to send text messages to the device. Upon receiving the message, Aslan will start doing sign language gestures.

Although the current model lacks mobility, the scientists hope to make the device portable enough to fit in a backpack. The creators’ long-term goal is to turn Aslan into a two-armed robot that can perform two-handed gestures and can show facial expressions to completely convey messages.

Aslan is not the first innovation developed to assist deaf people. In 2014, tech giant Toshiba created a robot named Aiko Chihira. Currently, Aiko can only do simple Japanese Sign Language. But in 2020, Toshiba plans to make it a full-fledged communication robot that can recognize and produce speech and can do the American Sign Language. With these new abilities, Aiko will be able to help not only deaf people but also the elderly and people with dementia.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think Aslan is a practical invention? Explain your answer.
• What other improvements do you think can be added to this existing innovation?

Discussion B

• Do you think people should invest more in innovations that assist people with disabilities? Why?
• What device would you like to be developed to aid people with disabilities? Give details.