Deaf people may soon be able to read what others are saying to them, if an app created by National Junior College students gets the all-clear after trials next month.
The app will convert what people are saying into text and project it onto a spectacle lens for the deaf person to read. Dubbed EyeHear, it was developed as part of the Tech for Good Innovation Challenge, which asked student teams from high schools and junior colleges to come up with tech solutions for young people with disabilities that will help them find a job.
The app uses the built-in microphone in smartphones to pick up what someone is saying. That, in turn, is converted into text by the team's online server. The text is then displayed on a pair of smart glasses, also designed by the team.
Mentors from Google, non-profit group Engineering Good, SG Enable and the Down Syndrome Association helped guide the teams with design and prototype development - and the projects were presented virtually to a panel of tech experts in September last year.
The National Junior College team comprised Bharagth Ravindharan, Kabileswaran Krishna Kumar, Deenadayalan Amirthaa and Sindhura Rajiv Jain, all aged 17.
Kabileswaran said technology that is now available, like hearing aids, cannot adapt to changes in the degree of hearing loss.
He said: "Current speech-to-text apps on smartphones mean hearing-impaired people miss out on eye contact, body language and other non-verbal cues that make up a large part of conversation.
"Our smart glasses display text right at the user's eye line, which allows him to maintain eye contact with the person he's speaking to while reading the text."
Having just one specialised function - text display - also means the kit can be sold for about $30, compared with other commercial smart glasses that can cost up to $700, he added.
The Tech for Good Innovation Challenge is part of the Go Digital Asean initiative, where the Asean Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and The Asia Foundation came together to launch the initiative. This was also supported by a USD3.3 million grant from Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm. The organisations declined to reveal the cost of the project.
Another team that took part in the contest was from the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, which created an app called Easy Board that aims to relieve stress faced by people with Down syndrome when travelling alone on public transport.
With bright colours and limited to three instructions at a time, Easy Board's main draw is a simplified user interface that helps users get to their training centre and home. These are the two most frequent destinations for people with Down syndrome, said the Down Syndrome Association.
The team comprised Anirudh Eswara and Shriniket Subramanian, both 18. Anirudh said: "We wanted to use our knowledge of engineering to empower those with Down syndrome to have the same kind of freedom that we have."
To ensure users' safety, the app also features an emergency dial button to contact caregivers, and a computer-generated voice that is always on, to maintain the attention of users who may be easily distracted.
The team plans to roll out the app for purchase if trials, which started last month, are successful.
Correction note: In an earlier version of the article, we said the team tapped a US$3.3 million grant from Engineering Good and the Asia Foundation's Go Digital Asean initiative. This is incorrect. The team tapped the grant from Google.org, in support of the Go Digital Asean initiative, which was created by the Asean Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and The Asia Foundation. We also mixed up two names in the caption for NJC students. We are sorry for the errors.