SignON Project Delivers Workshop on State-of-the-Art Research at the European Parliament

28 September 2022

SignON, a pan-European research project addressing the communication gap between Deaf, Hard of Hearing (DHH) and hearing people, was the focus of a workshop at the European Parliament today (28th September 2022).  Researchers on the project presented the technological advances achieved in the project to date as well as the social benefit and impact on DHH and hearing individuals  as well as key stakeholders.  The workshop was hosted by Ádám Kósa, Non-Attached Member of the European Parliament. The objective of the research project is the fair, unbiased and inclusive spread of information and digital content in European society.

The technology deployed in the SignON project covers a wide range of topics,  including Natural Language Processing (NLP), Machine Learning (ML), Machine Translation (MT), Linguistics, Deaf Studies, education, SIgn Language Synthesis and 3D graphics.  As no sign language is universal, the SignON team are using their expertise to deploy a communication service capable of automatic translation between signed and spoken languages that will be accessible on a smartphone application. This service is being developed in a community-driven and user-centric way to facilitate the exchange of information among DHH and hearing individuals across Europe. This iterative co-creation approach facilitates the co-design and co-development of the innovative technology employed in the project with the relevant user communities.

Speaking at the event, Ádám Kósa, said: “I am certain that in 50 years technology will play an even greater role than we can imagine today. After all, the everyday lives of people with disabilities are already supported by many technologies that we could not even dream of 20 years ago. The role of technology and its impact on people’s lives must be constantly researched in order to find the best solutions.”

Explaining the opportunities in SignON, Dimitar Shterionov, former ADAPT researcher and Scientific and Technical Coordinator of SignON, said: “Artificial intelligence has evolved immensely in the last decade and has reached unprecedented performance levels addressing an ever-growing set of topics. Exploiting the advances in sign language and speech recognition, automatic translation and synthesis of 3D virtual characters, SignON develops an all-in-one translation opportunity, accessible with the touch of a button.”

The SignON application is designed as a light-weight interface, and the SignON framework will be distributed on the cloud where the computationally intensive tasks will be executed.  This will ensure access to all along with improved sign language detection and synthesis, as well as multilingual speech processing for everyone.

During the workshop, the team also spoke about AI as well as the challenges that are encountered due to the lack of sign language data. They focused on the topic of ‘native’ data, and what is needed in society to actually support native signers and encourage this group to grow and thrive. The workshop ended with a Q&A session to engage consortium members, MEPs and guests, as well as allowing them to share opinions and present new ideas.  

The SignON project commenced in January 2021 and will run until the end of 2023.  The consortium comprises 17 European partners and is led by Professor of Computing at DCU and Deputy Director of the ADAPT Centre, Professor Andy Way.  Through collaboration with the European DHH communities, researchers will define use-cases, co-design and co-develop the SignON service and application targeting the Irish, British, Dutch, Flemish and Spanish sign and English, Irish, Dutch, Spanish spoken languages.