Sunday, 30 March 2014

Read the Signs.

Russia Today's (RT) Technology Update, episode 'Safety First!' (E72), highlights the growing interest in wearable technology. In this episode, shows an undergraduate project in converting data from an electronic glove into text to interpret sign language, and a new age of fire-fighter uniforms using high-tech textiles from the scorching heat.

Although the high-tech textiles was interesting, I was captivated by the wearable technology project - the electronic glove created by an undergraduate student.
Darya Yakimova. A still picture taken from RT's Technology Update E72 video.

Still pictures taken from RT's Technology Update E72 video.
Darya Yakimova is a first year undergraduate student at Bauman University, Moscow. When she was an eleventh-grade student, she proposed her electronics concept and prototype of an electronics glove that can translate electronic data into English alphabet letters.
The intention? To convert sign language into written text.

Now, the idea of converting sign language understandable to non-signers has already been approached. I have come across inventions that convert sign-language into spoken speech.
Such examples are here and here.

However, what makes Darya innovative, is her thought process of getting to her prototype. By combining individual sensory electronic components together - which are simple and used widely by electronic hobbyists - and using them to aid those with an impairment is what is impressive.

In fact, in my electronics group design project, we used a similar setup to Darya. Doing that project has helped me divide her electronics product into sections. The Arduino microcontroller platform has lots of libraries compatible with many gyroscopes and accelerometers on the market. My electronics group used the Arduino Mega 2560 because it provided enough power and pins to facilitate the TFT screen we were using in addition to the other sensory components in our project.

Check the RT Technology Update video here for a detailed explanation on how it works, or read a summery here.
Still picture taken from RT's Technology Update E72 video.

Darya uses an Arduino Mega 2560 platform and LCD display MT 16S2H. I assume that she also used the Arduino Mega 2560 for similar reasons to ours. Since gyroscopes measure the angular velocity and not solely the angle (like the accelerometer) I think I understand her reason for sticking just with the accelorometer. Perhaps for the prototype's current state, she felt that a gyroscope instead would offer redundancy data. Though I think that using a chip like the GY-521 (gyro and accelerometer) would add more measurable parameters to decode the gestures more reliably and accurately.

Her programming would have been in C-language, as that is what the Ardunio microcontrollers require. I would speculate that programming would need to convert the data from the LED tube sensor into text. Perhaps she made a look-up table that listed the combination of LED tube sensor from each finger to correspond with a letter in the alphabet. This was then outputted onto the screen using the microcontroller. My electronics group did not use an electronics glove, so this is where my understanding halts, but other groups in my course did make their own electronics gloves so I could ask them. Or just research on Google, Youtube, or electronics hobbyists websites/forums (this should help). How you could implement Artificial Intelligence into this is an interesting question. One suggestion I have is to use the same principle of the glove onto an isolated robotic hand to start. Eventually, robots could do sign language by configuring a similar wiring setup on the hand as with on the glove.

Overall, I feel that what I learnt in my electronics project has given me the skills and know-how to understand what Darya has done. I now feel capable to construct something akin to Darya's project - which I guess my University would call a success, and I would certainly call it a success too given the fact that I had never tinkered with or programmed Arduinos or before starting the project.

It seems that Darya has been working on this for a while. It shows not only in the seemingly non-existent latency with the prototype, but also her confidence in demonstrating and talking about her prototype with her colleagues, and RT. As with all electronics projects, there must have been hurdles that she had to jump over - and I experienced this in my electronics project. It is all about staying on track and seeing the project through to completion.

I think that what innovation is all about is the construction of making something extraordinary. As daunting as that may sound, if we break the word up into parts it seems achievable. As a saying goes,
Taken from here, Alpha Hacks's "20 Motivation Quotes for Students That Will Get You Through College".
When you think about it, the extraordinary achievements that you have made or others have made in their lives started from an ordinary action or thought. What evolved it to become extraordinary is forming an chain of ideas that are abstracted linked to create that 'ah-ha' moment. In my opinion, the abstract chain of ideas creates the game-changing pivot, and that is the 'little extra'.

If you imagine an idea that seems impossible, divide the idea down into possible and achievable steps. When the all possible steps are achieved and all communicating with each other, then before you know it you would have made the impossible, possible.

In my eyes, Darya has taken the same KIS (Keep It Simple) approach, and look where it has gotten her. I admire her ambition, and wish her all the best with her invention. Perhaps Darya Yakimova is a name I should remember for the future.

If you are interested in the high-tech textile news story (and you will be if you are interested in Chemistry) check RT's video link. It is featured after Darya.

Wearable Technology, again I am intrigued by you.
All this would not be possible with electronics and programming, so if interested go exploring. Divide projects into parts and achieve one possible step at a time.

All pictures and quotes have been referenced.

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