The group of MobileASL researchers at the University of Washington features in a local news bulletin. They have been working for a few years now on efficient transmitting of ASL video over a channel with limited bandwidth. The idea is to enable mobile videophony, which has been the holy grail of mobile applications for quite some time already.
Personally, I am not convinced that specific technology for the transmission of sign language video will really have an impact. Here are a few reasons. Bandwidth will increase anyway with costs going down. Processing capacity in phones will increase. Videophony is an application that is desirable for many, not just signers. In other words, there is already a drive towards videophony that will meet the requirements for signing. Furthermore, I am not sure which requirements are specifically posed by sign language. People talk and gesture too, and I imagine they would want that to come across in the videophony as well. Finally, signers can and do adjust their signing to for example webcams. Does the technology address a real problem?
“The team tried different ways to get comprehensible sign language on low-resolution video. They discovered that the most important part of the image to transmit in high resolution is around the face. This is not surprising, since eye-tracking studies have already shown that people spend the most time looking at a person’s face while they are signing.”
Would this not be true for any conversation between people?
On the positive side: perhaps this initiative for signers will pay off for everyone. It wouldn’t be the first time that designs for people with specific challenges actually addressed problems everyone had to some degree.
Hello my dear readers. Perhaps you missed it, but this website was down for almost two weeks. There were some technical difficulties and in the end I more or less started anew, with a less than perfect backup of the content. So, it is possible that pages are missing or that links malfunction. If you would be so kind to report these things it would be highly appreciated. At least the website is upgraded with new blogging software and a new look.
I noticed a flurry of gesture patents that mentioned a ‘portable mutlifunction device’. That’s patentspeak for iPhone. The patents were all from APPLE Inc. Well done Apple. That’s how you manage a patent portfolio. Philips and IBM used to be the masters in this line of completely covering an area with a barrage of patents. It will give Apple something to negotiate with in future business deals with other vendors.
Who will be able to argue with this patent portfolio? Who will be able to claim that the things Apple has patented were already invented elsewhere? Who will be able to maintain that gestures are not technical inventions but natural human communicative actions? Who will pay the lawyers to fight these fights?
Here it all is in a fashion that is easier to digest than sifting through 22 patents.
I think Apple has won this fight before it could even get started.
Although the story of David Healy’s flute gesture is getting a little moldy it has generated enough discourse to deserve another mentioning here. The interesting thing about this flute gesture is how it is part of the history of the Northern Ireland sectarian conflicts. Sensitive catholic Irish republicans will get inflamed over the gesture while others have no idea what the problem is.
These flute bands on Orangist marches are what the gesture refers to.
Get a glimpse of the triumphalist nature of these marches
By coincidence I am currently reading ‘The Irish War’ by Tony Geraghty. He sketches a long and messy conflict which has gone on for more than 300 years. It is clear that these marches are of an inflammatory nature, and therefore a gesture that refers to them is also inflammatory. It is not just a merry band of flute-playing men. They celebrate Orangist protestant dominance in Northern Ireland at the expense of the catholic part of the population.
The conflict carried over to a Scottish football match called ‘the Old Firm’ between the Rangers (protestant) and Celtic (catholic), see this nice historical overview by the BCC. Many Irish people moved to Scotland and brought the conflict with them. Paul Gasoigne made the mistake of making this gesture while he played for the Rangers and paid a heavy fine of 20.000 pounds.
Paul Gascoigne made the same flute gesture during the old firm (Picture: BBC News)
David Healy was not playing for the Rangers, in fact I don’t think he ever did, but he is known as a Rangers fan. He is from Northern Ireland and he plays in their national side. However, in this game Healy was playing for Fulham (an English club) in a friendly match against Celtic, which sets the context for the gesture. Healy was ‘provoked’ by the Celtic fans who knew his sympathies and chanted ‘where were you on The Twelfth‘ (a reference to an important march on the twelfth of July). In response, he seems to have made this gesture somewhat jokingly. The strange thing is that he seems to be escaping the sort of fine Gascoigne got. Why is that? Was Gazza perceived as doing it to inflame Celtic supporters whereas Healy was just fooling around? I think many people will take it more seriously than that. As always happens with sportsmen making inappropriate gestures, Healy is now apologizing and his club is investigating. It wouldn’t surprise me if a fine came soon.
Update: I think an important difference between Healy and Gascoigne is that the latter played for the Rangers who were at that time trying to defuse a tense situation. Gascoigne’s gesture was hurting that effort.
Control a Beamed Powerpoint Presentation with Gestures
These students appear to have created a gesture based application that we also considered about four years ago. I know IBM and Philips were interested in this sort of application. So, well done guys! And excellent presentation too. I think they managed to make the best of it, given a difficult application.
Why is a presentation system a difficult application? Well if someone is presenting he will usually gesture during talking. These gestures are directed at the audience and not at the presentation software. So, the first task of such a system is to discriminate between those gestures: what is for me and what is for the audience. Furthermore, a presenter may also be fidgeting during his talk which shouldn’t be interpreted as a gesture. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether these students treated these issues.
The things they did do seem to be designed well enough. I think I like the calibration they designed: It creates a connection between the user’s physical environment and the camera he must address. It grounds the interaction. The subsequent examples of the functionality they have built in is less impressive. The forward-back commands are okay, but the drawing and highlighting are not very valuable in my opinion. People in the audience can see that you are pointing at something so there is perhaps little need to do more. But maybe these are first steps which need a bit more maturity in their interaction design to become useful.