Giving a voice to the deaf

A Penticton man hopes to use technology to better the lives of millions of deaf people all over the world.

Tarik Sayeed, 36, along with two other team members, is taking the hand gesture movements for sign language and converting them into text and voice, using a device known as Leap Motion.

His inspiration for pursuing the initiative came from an encounter with a hearing impaired individual who was having problems.

"It was when I witnessed this lady in the grocery store where she was struggling during her transaction with the cashier," he said. "I realized for a moment how frustrating it must have been for her."

Sayeed says the brief encounter stayed with him, and when he came across the Leap Motion technology he decided to use it to develop the software to aid those who are deaf.

To get the effort going, he joined forces with Syed Musawi and Tanveer Ahmed, a pair of university students who graduated at the top of their class. The three formed a team known as Baby Taxi.

The effort involves the use of the Leap Motion controller, which is an electronic device that plugs into a computer. It is able to read gestures involving the hand, fingers and pointable devices such as pencils and markers.

At this point it has moved from being just a concept to an actual prototype consisting of a few common transactional sentences translated from American Sign Language to text and voice.

The team next plans to collaborate with the deaf community to take the project to next level.

As the news spreads, not only has the deaf community offered support, but a couple of high tech firms and a potential investor from the Silicon Valley have shown an interest in collaborating with Baby Taxi.

The team has also been selected to participate in Accelerate Okanagan's Jump:Start:Challenge Friday in Kelowna.

During the challenge, each competing firm will present its product to a panel of esteemed judges including Andrew Wilkinson, BC Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services for a chance to improvise on their products.

"Our primary focus is to provide basic tools to the deaf population," said Sayeed. "We want to ensure they no longer need to struggle with a pen and paper and provide an effective way to communicate with our world when the interpreter is absent due to other commitments."





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