Tuesday, 18 December 2018 05:39

Huawei launches story-reading app for deaf community

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Huawei launches story-reading app for deaf community Supplied

Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei has launched an artificial intelligence-powered app that can enrich story time for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

Known as StorySign, it is claimed to create an authentic reading experience. A statement from the company said the app would be available in Australia from February 2019.

Huawei Australia has struck a deal with Deaf Australia, a local charity, to encourage support and donations for those affected, and to offer the app to the Australian deaf community. The company is also looking to raise awareness of deaf literacy.

“Deaf children don’t learn to read in the same way as hearing children. Many struggle to learn how to read because they can’t match words with sounds," said Kyle Miers, chief executive of Deaf Australia.

"The deaf community is in need of accessible content to address children’s literacy development needs and digital tools like StorySign is addressing this necessity. For this reason, we are privileged to be working with Huawei on the StorySign project and how, through the use of AI and innovative technology, it could enrich the lives of Australian deaf children and their families in a meaningful way.”

“We’re very hopeful that it [the app] will make a significant impact in the deaf community, helping more deaf children learn how to read at the same level as hearing children," says Mark Wheatley, executive director, European Union of the Deaf.

"We also hope the launch of StorySign will support a wider conversation about ensuring equality in every aspect of their lives for deaf people.”

The company statement said: "Created with experts and charities from the deaf community across Europe and in Australia, StorySign uses Huawei AI, featuring powerful image recognition and optical character recognition to provide greater accuracy even when the child or parent positions the phone at an angle from the book.

"The AI further optimises the speed at which pages from the book loads in the app meaning that children won’t be left waiting too long to find out what happens next in the story."

Apart from Deaf Australia and the European Union of the Deaf and its local charities across Western Europe, publishing partner Penguin and the acclaimed animation specialists of Wallace & Grommit fame, Aardman, have also been involved in creating the app.

“When creating Star, the character for StorySign, we first had to immerse ourselves in the world of sign language,” said Neil Pymer, Interactive Creative Director, Aardman.

“The complexity we found is overwhelming, so we needed to make sure that we created a character that not only resonated with the audience but also fulfilled its main job of teaching children to read.

"For example, we learned that facial expressions play a critical role in sign language, so we created a character to embody that expressivity. At the same time, Star was designed to seem like an older sibling, somebody who will guide you through the book. Seeing the reactions of children when realising that Star signs the words in the book is something very special indeed.”

The app can be downloaded free from Google Play Store and the Huawei AppGallery in 10 markets across Western Europe and will be available in Australia from February 2019 with Auslan compatibility.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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