The PARLOMA project is aimed at creating a robotic system to allow remote communication between two deafblind people, a deafblind person to a deaf person and a deafblind person to a hearing person with a knowledge of sign language.
Deafblind people are unable to hear and see, generally they are born deaf, then they gradually become blind. As a matter of fact deafblind people first learn Sign Language (SL), then when they go blind they modify their way of communicating into Tactile Sign Language (TSL). The main drawback of this method is that the signer (speaker) and the receiver (listener) must be in the same place, one next to the other. Secondly, only one-to-one conversations are possible, because in TSL the listener has to touch and follow with his hands those of the sogner.
Nowadays there are three possible communication scenarios in which deafblind people can be involved:
- deafblind person to deafblind person;
- deafblind person to hearing/deaf person that can sign;
- deafblind person to hearing person that cannot sign. In this case the deafblind person receives the message on their palm via a working glove, this solution is called the “Malossi system” or “writing on the palm”.
As described above, all these situations require the two people being in the same place, therefore this space-dependent communication strongly limits the interactions of deafblind with the rest of the world. In order to face this problem the goal of the project is design a system able to allow deafblind to remote communicate with the rest of the society.
This project paves the way for the first trial ever thought (to the best of our knowledge) of a telephone for deaf-blinds resorting on on TSL. Just like the phones that we use every day, PARLOMA system will not semantically interpret nor understand or store the transmitted message. This strategic choice guarantees the feasibility of the project and its validity for different countries and communities who don’t share a common Sign Language (SL). We would like to stress that the technology used is independent from the specific language of signs. PARLOMA arises, then, as a technological cross-sign languages tool, able to remotely transfer signs from any SL used worldwide for communication purposes.
About the Project
Our system, still in its beta phase, is able to transfer TSL messages remotely and in real time, so that a deafblind recipient is able to understand the message conveyed by the signer (“the speaker”). The signer communicates using a regular keyboard or signing in front of a low-cost depth camera (like the Microsoft Kinect). Input information are digitally processed, encrypted and transmitted reliably over the web. Everywhere in the world, data are received, decrypted and provided to the final deaf-blind user via an haptic interface based on anthropomorphic robotic hands and arms (or many users, if different hands are connected to the web).
Deaf-blind people are individuals who are not able to see neither to hear. The term deaf-blindness describes a condition that combines varying degrees of hearing disability and visual impairment. Two sensory disabilities multiply and intensify the impact of each other creating a severe disability, which is certainly unique and different for any affected person. This forces us to develop and offer services radically different from those designed exclusively for people who are blind or deaf. In addition, deaf-blinds specific needs vary greatly depending on their age, the age of onset of the disability and type of deaf-blindness.
The deaf-blindness, in most cases caused by a disease called Usher syndrome, prevents deaf-blind people to live an independent and autonomous life. The total impossibility of being able to see, hear and speak are the premises of a state of absolute isolation and depression. Deaf-blindness causes a large set of limitations, related to communication, personal and autonomous learning, in addition to serious difficulties in the perception of the surrounding environment and interpersonal relationships. The development of a system allowing remote communication for deaf-blind people would greatly affect their perception of integration into society, as it would enable them to cultivate relationships without the obvious need to be in the same place. In fact, TSL requires physical contact between interlocutors. So far there have been no concrete investment and technological solutions designed to support this severe form of disability. PARLOMA aims to narrow this gap, providing an innovative communication tool and new opportunities for deaf-blind people, limiting the state of isolation in which they are often forced to live.
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