Like any language, signing fails as a form of communication between people when one of the parties involved can't follow the conversation. But signing also struggles against the paradigm that nearly all face-to-face communication is verbal. We need translators to fill in the gap and turn physical communication into verbal. Wouldn't it be cool if we could do that with technology?
A project called EnableTalk might be the key to giving sign language a voice. The Ukranian Project won Microsoft's Imagine Cup for a glove that detects hand movements and feeds that data to Windows software, which in turn translates the language of sign into written words. At that point, a text-to-speech can read the text aloud.
The glove contains a microcontroller, 15 flex sensors, and an accelerometer/gyro/compass package for detecting movement and positioning in space. The glove uses Bluetooth for communication and USB for syncing and charging its battery, which is smartly augmented by a solar panel to prolong usage. EnableTalk's test video doesn't exactly make communication look fast, but it works, and it can only get more efficient.
EnableTalk's goal is to make sign language vocal using only the glove and a mobile device. The smartphone will match hand movements with the corresponding letters and then read them aloud. Even more promising is the idea that a smartphone could be used to make a phone call. The power of text-to-speech could give millions of people access to a form of communication that was essentially impossible.