It would be great if all the people spoke the same language, right? However, today there are more than 7,000 languages around the world, according to the magazine’s calculations. Ethnologue.
Communicating in a non-native language is a skill that can be learned, but it requires many hours of dedication. Fortunately, technology can give us a hand with that, be it with translation services on the web or with applications for smartphones, although a solution has now been developed that goes far beyond these everyday tools.
The student team HART created a wearable device in the form of a smart sleeve that can convert text (written in any language) into vibrations. So through these vibrations it is possible to understand any foreign language. The students developed a “vibrational language” based on the 39 different sounds of the English language.
This is the first time that a sleeve with vibrating motors has been used to communicate.
But how does the translator sleeve work? Software converts written text into English text and then passes it on to sound units, which in turn are converted into vibrations. Each sound has its own vibration, so when the vibrations that a person feels in their arm through the sleeve come together, they form words and sentences.
In theory it doesn’t sound that complicated, but in practice there is another important factor to consider: learning to interpret vibrations.
That’s why team member Lisa Overdevest, an Industrial Engineering student, learned to interpret her own design vibration language in a month, practicing for an hour every other day. As a result, Lisa can now understand someone through vibrations; in other words, you can communicate with people “just by feeling.”
HART hopes that with this project people can perceive all languages in a universal way and that it is not by an invasive method, so that everyone can understand each other better.
The 17 students that make up the HART team, from different faculties of the Eindhoven University of Technology, spent the last 12 months working on the sleeve and want to further develop the innovative application in the future.
Currently, users can feel and understand written language, but according to students in the future it should be possible to convert spoken language directly into vibrations.
To do this, artificial intelligence (AI) must be integrated into the design, and that is precisely what the team is working on now. Also, HART students want to build the vibration kit directly on the clothing.
Now, if HART succeeds in converting spoken language into vibrations in its entirety, this advance will also be good news for the hearing impaired. In fact, with this technology they could converse with someone just by feeling the vibrations and they would not even need to have the interlocutor in sight for lip reading or sign language.
Likewise, when a person with a hearing disability has mastered vibrational language, they can easily communicate with anyone, regardless of whether the other person is fluent in sign language. Thus, it would be enough for the interlocutor to speak for the deaf person to understand.
Finally, the student team aims to go further by creating new human senses or enhancing existing ones, which is the essence of human enhancements. In this case, innovation has to do with speech, but in the future it could also work with images and smells.
In fact, the great goal of HART is to create an online platform where people can download new senses, just as they do to get new software. For example, they could download a sense to use the phone in a completely different way.
“Now we only control our mobile phone with the tips of our fingers. Imagine being able to use other parts of your body to capture information more easily, for example, through vibrations in your skin. The possibilities are endless”, said Mariia Turchina, founder of the student team, who was inspired by superhero movies with superhuman abilities.
According to the student, the possibilities are endless because the brain itself does not hear, see, or feel anything, it only receives electrochemical signals.
“When someone learns a new language, it doesn’t matter where the signals come from. They can be from your ears or eyes, but also from these vibrations. This does not matter to the brain and, therefore, this ensures that people can learn a language just by feeling ”, concluded Turchina.