Trying to learn sign language on your own has its drawbacks: there’s no interactivity and you’re never certain if you are accurately performing the gestures. The other option, taking a course, is a more costly prospect that occurs at specified times that might not suit your needs. Thanks to a group of Stevens senior design students however, an innovative third option is being developed.
Electrical engineer major Gamal Mohomed, engineering management major Michelle Little and computer engineer majors Anthony Matos, Gregg Nickels and JuaoPaulo Rodrigues have created a supplemental learning tool known as SWILT (Signing With Immersive Learning Techniques).
Combining a software and hardware component, SWILT allows users to learn sign language in a new, interactive way that costs significantly less than a course. A pre-existing hardware, the Leap Motion, collects data about a user’s hand motions when a gesture is performed. The data is then interpreted by team-developed software.
“Our software uses system logic to interpret the input. It compares it to information that we’ve entered about correct gestures,” explained Little, the team’s project manager.
SWILT is then able to provide feedback, letting a user know if a gesture was performed correctly or not. The team also created a custom curriculum similar to Rosetta Stone. Users answer questions by clicking the mouse or are prompted to sign.
“We wanted to incorporate different visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning techniques. We didn’t want it to be all motion-based,” said Little.
According to Eirik Hole, professor of engineering management at the School of Systems and Enterprises and faculty team advisor, the team has shown initiative throughout the entire senior design process.
“When they came to me with their idea they had already formed as a group and were all ready to go,” recalled Hole. “This is a very proactive group.”
In fact, the team took the initiative and reached out to several key people including Hong Man, a Stevens associate professor who served as a data collection resource; Brian Moriarty, a Stevens adjunct professor who served as a resource for the educational component; and Dr. Randolph Mowry, a New York University associate professor who teaches American Sign Language.
“In order for our project to be good in all aspects — hardware, software, educational — we needed to reach out to professionals in those fields,” said Little.
As for the future of SWILT, the team intends to establish partnerships with universities that teach American Sign Language courses and sell SWILT as a supplemental learning tool.
“We want to start out as a supplemental solution because we want to get feedback from that initial launch and hear what users are saying,” said Little. Feedback received will be used to improve SWILT.
Given the dedication and persistence the team has demonstrated so far, it’s not surprising to learn team members don’t intend to stop there.
“The grand goal is to make SWILT an alternative option for learning American Sign Language,” said Little, noting team members plan to keep working on SWILT after graduation.
“It’s definitely something we want to see continued and launched,” said Little. “SWILT will be something that is on everybody’s radar after graduation.”
This project will be displayed on the Stevens campus on April 29th during the Stevens Innovation Expo, an annual, one-day, campus-wide event, which displays the extensive research and innovation accomplishments of faculty and students.
The Stevens SWILT team. From left to right: JoaoPaulo Rodrigues, Gamal Mohamed, Anthony Matos, Michelle Little and Gregg Nickels.