Each month we profile an innovative, growing company from across The Golden Triangle of Cambridge, London and Oxford. This month we spoke with Hadeel Ayoub, the founder of BrightSign, a London-based start-up whose mission is to facilitate communication for the non-verbal community by applying machine learning technology to assistive hardware.

How did the idea of BrightSign come about?

The idea of BrightSign came about partly by chance. While I was doing my PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, I was selected to compete in an ‘artificial intelligence for social care’ Hackathon in Seoul, South Korea. I was tasked with creating a project that has a social impact, and  having already known sign language, the idea and the prototype for BrightSign was born.

How does BrightSign work?

The way other existing sign-to-speech products work is to translate the hand gestures to text first, then convert the text to speech with a computer. BrightSign has a few differentiators compared to those technologies. First and foremost is the real-time hand gesture to speech feature. BrightSign is an all-in-one product: the gloves have all the sensors to measure the hand movement, the finger-bending positions etc. The wrist band contains a computer chip, a battery pack, and a screen, where the texts will be displayed, as well as the speaker, there’s no need for additional equipment; secondly is how the software and hardware work together. I wrote a program that processes the movements recorded into text; it recognises the hand gesture that is unique to the user and uses machine learning to translate sign language into a recorded voice.

Initially, the objective is to make the gloves available to 1,500 schools across the UK free-of-charge, based on government funding to support non-verbal children. Now I see opportunities for BrightSign gloves to apply to universities and airports as a form of assisted technology.

There are currently two versions of BrightSign gloves. One version is with a speaker attached to the wristband, and they will be used predominately in schools and NGOs as assistive medical devices. On the other version, adults prefer to connect the gloves with their mobile phones for extra features, such as text on the go, or even translate it to other languages.

Why did you choose to set up in London?

I’ve lived in London for the past few years, while doing my PhD here. London has excellent networks and programmes for entrepreneurs, and that’s the main reason why I chose to stay in London.

What is next for BrightSign?

The goal is to make the product accessible and affordable. Looking at available assistive tech for communication on the market today, the cost range is in the thousands and we have managed to make each unit cost around £700 for the consumer version.  I’m looking for the necessary funding to standardise the design of the gloves, then mass produce the consumer version of the product, so the price for the device can be reduced even further.

It is at the beginning stage for personalising the hand gesture library to every user. Each glove can be trained and educated to their hand gestures, giving users complete control over sign language libraries and verbal communications. Apart from saving costs, it also saves time, and gives freedom to people in the non-verbal community.

Find out more about BrightSign gloves here