Revolutionary glove gives a voice to people isolated by speech impediments

William Broad (73)
William Broad (73)

A revolutionary glove pioneered by graduates from the University of Sheffield is helping to give a voice to people left isolated by severe speech impediments.

Talented inventors Vinoth Gurasamy, 25, Kalhana Colombage, 25, and Hossein Mohanna ,28, have produced a ground breaking, light-weight and low cost speech aid which is helping to transform the lives of people with communication difficulties.

The glove works by converting simple finger movements into gestures which control speech through a synthesised voice. The user simply wears the glove and moves their fingers in order to articulate more than 1,000 words or commands.

Vinoth, who graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Masters in Aerospace Engineering, said: "Our inspiration for the invention was an eight-year-old girl who we met during our course where we observed people with communication difficulties.

"She was able to do everything apart from speak and the only equipment she had was a huge keyboard which helped her say a limited amount of words. It was extremely big and she found it very difficult to carry around. Meeting her motivated us and made us determined to help others in a similar situation."

Over the past six months the team have been working closely with grandfather William Broad, 73, from Sheffield who suffered a stroke in 2010 leaving him unable to talk.

The former steel-worker is now able to articulate more than 16 words and phrases including: ’I am hungry’, ’I am thirsty’, ’my name is William’, ’thank you’ and ’what time is it?’

William’s daughter, Keeley Bellamy from Sheffield, said: "The glove is absolutely remarkable and has made such a difference for both dad and for the family. Dad is such an intelligent and able person so it is unbelievably frustrating for him not to be able to communicate with his loved ones.

"I am really impressed with the group’s invention, it is incredibly lightweight and looks just like a normal leather glove. The team have been brilliant and I am really grateful to them - I am now looking forward to watching dad use more and more words and sentences with the glove and I hope lots more people can benefit from the invention."

The graduates initially constructed a prototype of the device for the University’s annual Enterprising Ideas Business Planning Competition. After scooping first prize, Vinoth and Hossein launched Ecofriendly Technologies, and with the help of Kalhana, they developed the gadget further to increase the glove’s word bank and week-long battery life.

Kalhana, who is currently studying at the University for a PhD in Electronic Engineering, said: "The glove weighs approximately 100 grams, has a battery life which lasts one week and costs around 700. Although similar devices are available they are heavier and more expensive - a device with a spec of over 1,000 words or commands with a battery life of one day usually costs more than 2,000. These also have a very large screen and cannot be used in lots of everyday situations such as buying a bus ticket.

"Our glove blends into the users’ clothes and unlike devices with a screen they never need to scroll though pages and pages to find the right word - with our device any word is a second away making it one of the fastest communication device in the world.

MSc Advanced Manufacturing Technology graduate Hossein added: "We have spent a large amount of time developing this product but donating it to someone like William shows all of our efforts have paid off. It is so rewarding and such a great feeling to see someone communicate with their family after such a long time.

"To help us truly understand the frustration of having a communication difficulty our tutor taught a seminar in Spanish while we were blindfolded. This really gave us a sense of what it is like to be unable to communicate and made us realise how much of a difference our glove can make to people’s lives."

Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, Director of Enterprise Education and Faculty Director of Women in Engineering at the University of Sheffield said: "I am incredibly proud of Vinoth and his team because they took their winning idea forward after graduation and have made a product that is not only very innovative but will give people a voice again.

"As an enterprise educator I am also so excited to know that graduates are taking an entrepreneurial path, particularly at times when the economy most needs it. I would like to think that this wonderful communication device will enable many people to find their voice again. I know Vinoth and his team want to help people in the community and I strongly believe their passion will help them achieve this."

Margaret Freeman, from Human Communication Sciences at the University of Sheffield said: "William is a typical example of someone who may benefit from the glove. He has survived a massive stroke which has left him with very limited movement in his right side, visual problems and loss of control of his speech muscles.

"This means it’s difficult for him to use most of the standard forms of assistive technology or communication aids. William is an intelligent man, who still has a lot to say, so the ’talking glove’ could help him, by providing a way to get even a basic message out.

"It’s a very clever idea. It looks deceptively simple, but has a huge amount of technology under the surface. I believe it is best suited to people with little control of their speech muscles, but good hand control and well-preserved language and intellect."