Avatars are digitally created characters that turn speech into sign language. They are being developed for a wide range of uses including television sets and setup boxes and to help to make the web more accessible to Deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired users.
In collaboration with the BBC the RNID is exploring various means of using avatars for closed signing. Examples are the eSign project to develop signing avatars and SynFace, which lip-speaks any audio-material.
Avatars will also help address the shortage of human interpreters; they are not intended to replace them, but rather to increase the amount of signed content available to sign language users.
The eSIGN project ran from September 2002 to September 2004 with the aim of developing computer based virtual signers. The main aim was to increase the availability of sign language where it is not currently provided. One target was to make use of virtual signing technology to provide local government information on the Internet in sign language. During the eSIGN project, signing avatars were added to local government Internet sites in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.
TESSA, the TExt and Sign Support Assistant, has been developed to assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing in transactions at a Post Office. The TESSA system combines speech recognition technology and state of the art virtual human animation to enable Post Office assistants to communicate with Deaf customers.