Earlier this summer, engineers at the University of Washington began working on video conferencing solutions that would allow hearing-impaired individuals to communicate using sign language on their cell phones.
Now the project is moving to the testing phase. The system, which allows users to communicate over video via American Sign Language just as they would in face-to-face conversation, has been implemented on some students' cell phones to test its effectiveness and speed.
Before UW began working on a mobile video conferencing system, hearing-impaired individuals were restricted to using video conferencing-enabled computers and text messaging to communicate. Text messaging can be limiting, however, because it is unable to convey body language, emotion and intonation.
Mobile ASL solutions also use one-tenth of the bandwidth that applications like Apple's FaceTime use, making it more effective even over 3G networks.
"Mobile ASL is pretty cool," Josiah Cheslik, who has tried the new device, told Reuters. "It is just like when people would just pick up phone and call someone else. And it is is more speedy than texting or e-mail."
UW plans to test the ASL application on a broader scale this winter.