Kinect Understands American Sign Language, Patent Says
The full patent for Microsoft's Kinect motion control technology was recently released, and among the long list of features and applications, an interesting bit of information surfaced. Microsoft Kinect can understand American Sign Language (ASL).
The Kinect patent specifically confirms that users will be able to input letters, words and full sentences simply by using ASL gestures. Not only does this make games more accessible for those who use ASL, it opens up many other possibilities for communication and translation with those who don't know ASL.
"Where the language is ASL, the gesture may be a single letter or number, or a word or even a full expression or phrase, as is allowed by the language. ASL has the advantage of having a large number of people who are already facile in using it. To that end, a user who is facile in ASL will have an easy time inputting characters to a system that accepts ASL gestures as input," the patent states.
An illustration included with the Kinect patent, along with the accompanying explanation, details how an ASL user can use sign language to signal the character "a" without typing it in with a peripheral device. It's also clear that ASL translation for non-ASL users is a key part of the experience. The patent specifically mentions ASL translation as a way to make video chat a possibility for people who don't understand ASL. The Kinect interface could understand gestures and convert them to text, and then the non-ASL speaker could speak back and Kinect would convert the speech to text for the ASL user (if the person is hearing impaired).
The patent also mentions using "physical props" to make gestures that the Kinect technology understands. This means that Kinect may even be able to integrate a much broader set of gesture controls that anyone can use, even with items around the house.
Now for a dose of reality: While all this looks great in the patent, there's no guarantee that this functionality will actually be available at launch. The technology is good enough at recognizing body motions that identifying ASL gestures should be fairly simple, but there is still no confirmation this feature will be available in the first generation of Kinect.