Researchers’ bracelet translates Irish Sign Language in real time

4 Sep 2019

Image: © Daisy Daisy/

A prototype bracelet promises to help those who use Irish Sign Language communicate easier with those who can’t in real time.

As society shifts towards greater accessibility for all, researchers from Science Foundation Ireland’s Insight Centre for Data Analytics at Dublin City University (DCU) have unveiled a new wearable with serious potential.

The wristband detects Irish Sign Language (ISL) and translates it into text and voice in real time. It does this by reading electrical signals in the user’s muscles that are activated while using ISL in a technique referred to as electromyography.

The device was developed by researcher Laura Galea under the supervision of Prof Alan Smeaton at Insight DCU, and is to be showcased at the Content-Based Multimedia Indexing international conference at DCU over the coming days.

“We anticipate that a workable, wearable device will be available to users within about two years,” Smeaton said.

“Right now, the device can translate ISL letters into text or voice with up to 90pc accuracy. We are working on an autocomplete function, as you would use in texting, to increase that accuracy rate.”

The ISL translator wristband coloured black with a number of sensors on a person's arm.

The device developed by researcher Laura Galea under the supervision of Prof Alan Smeaton at Insight DCU. Image: DCU

Other research in this space has been growing in recent years. Last year, a team of researchers from University College Dublin (UCD) and the Science Foundation Ireland-funded research centre Lero revealed a prototype headset device for communication between deaf and non-deaf people.

When a non-deaf person wears the headset, an avatar will appear on screen translating the person’s sign language into speech, but it can also be used by deaf people to translate voice into ISL.

Elsewhere in DCU, Dr Elizabeth Matthews spoke to last year about her work on creating a glossary of ISL terms for maths education.

It’s estimated that more than 4,000 people use ISL at home in Ireland, with a few hundred children using it to learn maths in school. While this glossary would be immediately beneficial for them, Matthews said at the time that it could have a wider impact by providing teachers and interpreters with a greater vocabulary.

Updated, 10.51am, 6 September 2019: This article was amended to remove the suggestion that communication between someone wearing the Lero device and an ISL user could be done faster. 

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic