Smart gloves grab win for Ukraine at Imagine Cup

Glove capable of translating gestures into speech wins Microsoft-hosted technology competition

New Zealand has a strong history of performing at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup and this is the third year in a row a Kiwi team has made the finals of the event. Mobile Eye represented New Zealand this year, its app to help the blind beat hundreds of thousands of students from over 75 countries and secured the team a spot in the top six.

The competition, which aims to solve world problems through technology, was held in Sydney last night and was eventually won by Ukraine’s quadSquad. The Ukranian team entered a glove capable of translating sign language gestures into spoken word using a combination of flex-sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes. A custom built algorithm translates the data collected from the sensors into words, which is turned into speech using Microsoft’s Natural Language API.

Users are able to download a library of sign gestures (currently only US sign language) and in future versions they will be able to teach the system to recognise custom gestures.

The proposition to better enable communication between the deaf and those unable to understand sign language was well received by the audience, and most importantly the judges. The quick response time for translations and the Ukrainian team’s sense of humour made for an almost perfect presentation, particularly from a team of non-native English speakers.

For their efforts the Ukrainian team take home US$25,000, which they say will be used to build a “prettier” user interface and further develop the product.

Japan’s Team Coccolo came second with an energy saving LED lamp capable of changing its brightness depending on ambient light conditions and communicating with other LED lamps using fast blinking LED lights.

The team took inspiration from the energy crisis in Japan following the Fukushima nuclear reactors coming offline last year. The team says it hopes the system will encourage others to use power more efficiently.

Portugal’s Wi-Go came third with a robotic grocery carrier which could recognise its owner and follow him or her carrying. The system is aimed to help physically disabled, and was inspired by one of the team members who is paraplegic.

The Kinect-powered automated trolley created a stir on the presentation floor and became a crowd favourite after following around the members of the Portuguese contingent like a puppy.

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