These robots use sign language

A local software company is helping to develop a robot that will be able to read sign language, so it can be used to assist disabled people.

The project is a joint effort between CT Asia Robotics and the Science Faculty of Chiang Mai University.

CT Asia Robotics' chief executive Chalermpon Punnotok said collaboration between his company and the Engineering Faculty involved computational intelligence technologies in both computer vision and robotics.

A prototype has now been developed that is capable of understanding four or five words in sign language from total 400 photos of sign language, helping it to communicate with people who have no ability to speak.

Chalermpon said the robot's eyes, or cameras, captured the movements of sign language and processed these language "pictures" with computer vision technology, matching the movements with words stored in the robot's memory. Then the robot says the word out loud, in a sentence.

He said the next step involved working with the Thai Association of Dumb People to develop a complete database of sign-language words.

"We want to develop robots not only to help dumb people, but also to serve all types of disabled people and even the elderly," he said. "In Thailand, there are about 118,000 dumb people. If they have robots as assistants, to give them easy contact with the world, their lives will be more comfortable."

Research and development collaboration between CT Asia Robotics and Chiang Mai University is just a beginning. The company plans to undertake in-depth research and development in the area of robot assistants for the disabled and the elderly.

"We aim to be exporting healthcare robots within the next three years," Chalermpon said. "The potential market for these robots is huge, because society is ageing. To achieve our mission, we need a research and development budget of between Bt300 million and Bt400 million, so we are seeking support from the government."

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