Imagine a device that can take American Sign Language used by deaf citizens and instantly translate it into audible English. MSU Engineers did just that.

Innovative algorithm technology developed at Michigan State University can make sign language instantly heard by others. And the device is as portable as a tube of Chapstick!

“We are providing a ubiquitous solution to sign language translation,” Mi Zhang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering told MSU Today. “Hard-of-hearing individuals who need to communicate with someone who doesn’t understand sign language can have a personalized, virtual interpreter at anytime, anywhere.”

“Think about if you were in the hospital and needed to communicate with a doctor. You would have to wait for the hospital’s translator – if they have one – to arrive, connect with a toll-free service or rely on a family member to be present,” Zhang said. “This compromises your privacy and could worsen a health emergency. This is just one example demonstrating the critical need for sign language translation technology."

The device is called DeepASL, and was developed at MSU by Zhang along with Biyi Fang and Jillian Co at the MSU School of Engineering. It would be available for use on iPhones and other handheld devices.

Watch this video to see the translator in action.

The next step is to try and get the device on the commercial market. Leap Motion, the device that reads the signs would cost $78.

It's good to see Michigan State on the forefront of breakthrough technology, especially when concerns of a so called 'brain drain' from the state have been voiced by government officials recently.