Scientists have created a low- cost smart glove that can wirelessly translate sign language into text and control objects in virtual reality games. The device, called “The Language of Glove,” was built for less than USD 100 using stretchable and printable electronics that are inexpensive, commercially available and easy to assemble. “Gesture recognition is just one demonstration of this glove’s capabilities,” said Timothy O’Connor, a PhD student at the University of California San Diego. “Our ultimate goal is to make this a smart glove that in the future will allow people to use their hands in virtual reality, which is much more intuitive than using a joystick and other existing controllers,” said O’Connor. “This could be better for games and entertainment, but more importantly for virtual training procedures in medicine, for example, where it would be advantageous to actually simulate the use of one’s hands,” he said.
The glove is unique in that it has sensors made from stretchable materials, is inexpensive and simple to manufacture. “We’ve innovated a low-cost and straightforward design for smart wearable devices using off-the-shelf components,” said Darren Lipomi, a professor at UC San Diego. “Our work could enable other researchers to develop similar technologies without requiring costly materials or complex fabrication methods,” said Lipomi, senior author of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE. The team built the device using a leather athletic glove and adhered nine stretchable sensors to the back at the knuckles – two on each finger and one on the thumb. The sensors are made of thin strips of a silicon-based polymer coated with a conductive carbon paint. The sensors are secured onto the glove with copper tape. Stainless steel thread connects each of the sensors to a low power, custom-made printed circuit board that’s attached to the back of the wrist.
The sensors change their electrical resistance when stretched or bent. This allows them to code for different letters of the American Sign Language alphabet based on the positions of all nine knuckles. A straight or relaxed knuckle is encoded as “0” and a bent knuckle is encoded as “1.” When signing a particular letter, the glove creates a nine-digit binary key that translates into that letter. For example, the code for the letter “A” (thumb straight, all other fingers curled) is “011111111,” while the code for “B” (thumb bent, all other fingers straight) is “100000000.” The low power printed circuit board on the glove converts the nine-digit key into a letter and then transmits the signals via Bluetooth to a smartphone or computer screen. The glove can wirelessly translate all 26 letters of the American Sign Language alphabet into text. Researchers also used the glove to control a virtual hand to sign letters in the American Sign Language alphabet.