A Way to Talk With Your Hands—Literally
The ideas were wide-ranging, until one of the team members mentioned a recent experience
in a supermarket. He saw a cashier struggling to communicate with a person who was
deaf. That launched the four Ukrainian computer science students into a discussion
about the troubles that students with hearing impairments had at their computer
“It would have taken us years and years to get this kind of exposure globally normally.
Since we won [Imagine Cup], we’ve had emails from all over the world offering to
help us and invest seed funding.”
Maxim Osika, Team Quad Squad
we started talking, it all sort of clicked,” said Maxim Osika, a member of Team
Quad Squad. “We wanted to create something that could help them in their pursuit
to communicate. The hearing-impaired students try really hard to do the best they
can, but sometimes it’s really difficult.”
Maxim and the others researched the idea and were surprised to learn that no such
devices are available on the market. The team decided it would create a pair of
gloves that could translate sign language into spoken word.
That day, Enable Talk was born.
They started building the prototype for the gloves in January 2012 and worked though
weekends and nights to finish in time for the Microsoft 2012 Imagine Cup in Sydney,
Australia, in July.
The Enable Talk gloves turn sign language into speech.
gloves, which can be used for phone calls or face–to-face conversations, combine
sensors on the fingers with a controller that analyzes hand motions in the air,
compares them to a library of sign language, and then generates the verbal equivalent
of the sign through a smartphone.
They use flex sensors, gyroscopes, touch sensors, and accelerometers and can be adjusted
to any form of sign language. There are an estimated 360 million people globally
who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to the World Health Organization. The
goal of the gloves is to allow the estimated 70 million people who use sign language
to communicate with people who don’t.
Enable Talk won first place in the innovation category, beating 350 students from
75 countries. The prize included US$25,000 to help with development and testing.
Imagine Cup, the premier worldwide student technology competition and a Microsoft
YouthSpark program, challenges young technologists to create something that takes
on one of the world’s toughest problems.
Team Quad Squad reacts to the news they won the Imagine Cup.
so amazing and wonderful,” Maxim said. “There were so many people from so many countries
with great ideas. It was fun to be around all the people and we really loved the
The press was overwhelming. Time magazine named Enable Talk one of the Best Inventions
of 2012. Forbes magazine wrote a news story about the team. The Ukrainian press
went nuts and the government recognized Maxim and the others with an award for creating
a more positive image of Ukraine.
“Imagine Cup has been very helpful for us,” said Maxim, now 27. “It would have taken
us years and years to get this kind of exposure globally normally. Since we won,
we’ve had emails from all over the world offering to help us and invest seed funding.”
After Imagine Cup, finalists were eligible to apply for a US $50,000 Imagine Cup Grant
Enable Talk won that too.
Team members Valeriy Yasakov, 25; Maxim Osika, 27; and Anton Posternikov, 29.
first place at Imagine Cup felt really good,” said Maxim, “and getting
another $50,000 made it more real. The business infrastructure in the Ukraine is
underdeveloped, so it’s hard to find financing or venture capital because investors
are more skeptical. The grant from Microsoft has been really helpful.”
The team is using the grant money to help with technical challenges and to hire lawyers. The members are now fundraising
to finish development by the end of the year. They have put university on hold and
are working on the project full time.
The gloves can now translate 50 words, but the team is working on expanding to 200
before the launch. The gloves are being tested with native signers to build the
standard signs. It takes about three minutes to program each gesture. The gloves
and technology will cost about $300.
Andrey Terekhov, who works in developer and platform evangelism at the Microsoft
Central and Eastern European headquarters, has been mentoring the team since they
were selected to represent Ukraine at the Imagine Cup.
“Enable Talk is a very strong team,” Terekhov said. “They found a very good balance
between technical details and the broader vision for what could be done with technology.
The team has a great speaker, who radiates a positive attitude, a really nice designer
and most importantly, a great and powerful idea.”