German Rodriguez, 2020 International Copper Black Award winner

German Rodriguez

In Mexico, home of German Rodriguez, more than 2.4 million people have hearing disabilities. Sign language is a key communication tool for them, but, Rodriguez knows, whenever one’s speech is impeded, for any reason, the possibility of achieving true social fulfillment is significantly reduced.

The difficulty of deaf people to communicate decreases their capacity for social interaction. Consequently, their educational, professional, and human development are restricted, which limits their opportunities for inclusion in those areas of their lives. Even when sign language enables people who are deaf to communicate with each other, it does not facilitate their relationship with the rest of the community.

Several mobile apps help bridge the communication gap, translating various sign languages into voice and text, but not all of the various sign languages used around the world are represented. Rodriguez, a software developer and computer science professor in Mexico, developed the first app to translate in realtime images of Mexican Sign Language into text and voice.

The native Android app uses a mobile device’s camera to capture images of signing, which are then processed for sign recognition using Haar-like feature classifiers. The app produces translated text and the option to produce artificial voice.

“The benefit of this mobile application could mean a significant improvement in social inclusion, because it opens the possibility of communication with all sectors of the population and facilitates access to all services and resources for all people,” Rodriguez said.

The International Copper Black Award for Creative Achievement is not given for the creativity of a person, but for a specific creative achievement that may include an invention that has been patented or otherwise demonstrated to be of practical value, or an innovation that has been implemented, at least in part, to the advantage of persons other than the nominee.