American Sign Language Goes Mobile
August 20, 2019
FEMALE VOICEOVER: Welcome to Inside
Science TV.>>REPORTER: It’s a sign of the times. American Sign Language is going
mobile. Researchers at the University of Washington’s College of Engineering have developed breakthrough
software that enables cell phones to send and receive low-bit-rate video with high-quality
images. The software allows individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to use American
Sign Language, or ASL, for the first time over cellphone networks. Mobile ASL, as it’s
known, brings many advantages over texting.>>EVE A. RISKIN, PH.D.: It can be really difficult to have a two way
conversation with texting because it’s asynchronous. You send a message, you have to wait. Often,
it’s misunderstood. I don’t think anybody would choose to only communicate using texts.
You would rather have a voice conversation that’s two way, that’s instantaneous. [pause]
>>REPORTER: In 2009, Apple introduced Facetime, which enables mobile video chats. But the
bit rate is extremely high, and most cellphone networks can’t support it. Mobile ASL uses
significantly less bandwidth than Facetime, enabling it to work over cell networks.
>>RISKIN: We quickly detect where the hands and face are and we have our encoder give
more information to the hands and face so that they look better. And this is done at
the expense of the background, but we don’t really care so much about the background.
And so we wind up with a better quality video in the part of the video where it matters,
the hands and face.>>REPORTER: All signs point to a bright future for Mobile
ASL. Engineering and science. Making mobile communication accessible to everyone. I’m
Josh Lebowitz reporting.>>FEMALE VOICEOVER: Inside Science TV. If you enjoyed this edition,
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