AI research looks to bridge gaps between signed and spoken languages

28 Sep 2022

Image: © Random435/

The SignOn project is using AI to develop a communication service that can automatically translate between signed and spoken languages.

A European project led by researchers in Ireland is using AI to bridge the communication gap between deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people.

The SignOn project is developing a communication service that can automatically translate between signed and spoken languages, and will be accessible on a smartphone app.

The project’s consortium comprises 17 European partners. It is led by researchers from Adapt, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for AI-driven digital content, based at Dublin City University.

The project brings together a wide range of topics including natural language processing, machine learning, machine translation, linguistics, deaf studies, education, sign language synthesis and 3D graphics.

There is no universal sign language and, according to EU data, approximately half a million deaf or hard of hearing people in Europe communicate in one of 31 national or regional sign languages as their first language.

The SignOn project is aiming to develop an open-source service and framework for conversion between video, audio and text, translating between sign and spoken languages. This will be delivered to users through an easy-to-use mobile application.

The app is designed as a lightweight interface, while the framework will be distributed on the cloud where the computationally intensive tasks will be executed.

The project is targeting the Irish, British, Dutch, Flemish and Spanish sign languages and the English, Irish, Dutch, Spanish spoken languages.

The project’s scientific and technical coordinator, Dimitar Shterionov, said AI has “evolved immensely” over the last decade and has reached “unprecedented performance levels”.

“Exploiting the advances in sign language and speech recognition, automatic translation and synthesis of 3D virtual characters, SignOn develops an all-in-one translation opportunity, accessible with the touch of a button,” Shterionov added.

The SignOn project was the focus of a workshop at the European Parliament today (28 September), where researchers shared the project’s achievements to date. The workshop was hosted by Ádám Kósa, non-attached member of the European Parliament.

Speaking at the event, Kósa said he is “certain” that technology will play an “even greater role than we can imagine” in 50 years.

“After all, the everyday lives of people with disabilities are already supported by many technologies that we could not even dream of 20 years ago,” Kósa said. “The role of technology and its impact on people’s lives must be constantly researched in order to find the best solutions.”

The SignOn project commenced in January 2021 and will run until the end of 2023. The team said it is being developed in a community-driven way to facilitate the exchange of information among the deaf and hard of hearing community and hearing individuals across Europe.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic