Saudi ‘smart glove’ inventor thrives in the age of innovation

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Perfect fit: Hadeel Ayoub’s BrightSign smart glove allows people with speech disabilities to translate sign language into text and voice. (Reuters)
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Saudi inventor Hadeel Ayoub’s breakthrough device won first prize in an IBM global hackathon. (Reuters)
Updated 21 July 2019

Saudi ‘smart glove’ inventor thrives in the age of innovation

  • Hadeel Ayoub is the founder of BrightSign, a London-based company specializing in assistive technology
  • BrightSign's signature product is a smart glove that can facilitate communication by individuals with speech disability

LONDON: Saudi inventor and tech innovator Hadeel Ayoub is giving people who can’t speak new hope — and a new voice.

The founder of London-based tech company BrightSign is the driving force behind a smart glove that allows individuals who are unable to speak to communicate by translating sign language into text and speech.

After more than four years’ work, Ayoub, a designer, programmer and researcher in human computer interaction, plans to launch the device later this year.

Some of the biggest beneficiaries will be families with children who have speech disabilities and want to be better connected through technology. The BrightSign glove will enable these children to become better signers and communicators, but can also be hooked up with a web app to provide instant translation in most languages.

The architecture of a BrightSign glove is relatively straightforward: Multiple sensors, embedded under an outer glove, track finger positions, hand orientation and dynamic movements. The hardware is contained inside a slender wristband.

Hand gestures are translated into text that appears on a screen embedded in the glove, and speech is made audible via a mini-speaker. The user can select the voice and speech language.


BIO

• Founder and Chief Technology Officer, BrightSign

• Experienced lecturer, researcher and entrepreneur with experience in the higher education industry

• Skilled in innovation, creative coding, programming and design research

• Ph.D. in human-computer interaction and gesture recognition from Goldsmiths, University of London


Ayoub has been featured in Forbes magazine, tech programs on the BBC and Discovery channels, and has spoken at discussions organized by Britain’s Financial Times and Guardian newspapers. She has also taken part in a number of exhibitions with innovation and assistive technology as their themes.

Recalling the inspiration for the smart glove, the Saudi inventor said she was originally designing a device for an air-draw program — the air was the canvas, and the hands and fingers were the drawing tools. Her aim was to replace the mouse and keyboard with trackable wearable technology.

On the basis of her design, Ayoub was selected to represent her university at an IBM global hackathon in artificial intelligence for social care. She reprogrammed the glove to translate sign language and won the competition.

When news of the smart glove was circulated in the media, Ayoub’s inbox was flooded with inquiriesttt from parents wanting the glove for their children, from speech therapists for their patients, and from teachers for their students.

The tech innovator quickly realized there was a need for this kind of technology and decided to make it the focus of her Ph.D. research.




Hadeel Ayoub’s BrightSign smart glove allows people with speech disabilities to translate sign language into text and voice. (Reuters)

“I want to break the current barriers facing those who wish to broaden their experience with sign language beyond the current traditional method,” Ayoub said.

She believes that at least three improvements are urgently needed: Integrating children with disabilities into mainstream classrooms; equipping adults who have disabilities with technologies that will help them perform tasks as well as their peers manage; and making smart-glove devices available in public locations such as airports, shopping malls, government offices and hospitals to offer a smoother service to visitors with disabilities.

A global award winner for her technological innovation, Ayoub regularly tests and improves the BrightSign glove, which she describes as a work in progress.

“The glove has gone through multiple rounds of prototyping and testing. I have implanted the users’ feedback to develop hardware, software and design,” she said.

“It is now being used in six schools to help non-verbal children overcome their communication challenges in the classroom.”

Ayoub said that further studies would help her develop the final product. “I am now taking glove pre-orders on the BrightSign website,” she said.

The Saudi inventor said that she has always been “a progressive thinker and a dreamer of possibilities,” and described a childhood spent immersed in books rather than playing with dolls.

She remembers her family library with fondness and reminisces on quiet evenings spend reading.

As well as being an innovator, Ayoub is a mother who talks lovingly about her children.

“They are very much involved in the development phases of BrightSign,” she said. “I consider their opinions on the products designed for children. I always encourage them to do what they love since that would mean that they will excel in it.

“They get excited every time they see someone using BrightSign and they can see how it helps people live better.

“They also understand the concept of tech for good and aspire to work one day on technologies with a social impact.”

Ayoub sees herself as problem solver with an eye for technical detail, a kind of instinctive trouble-shooter. “When I attempt to solve a problem, I go through cycles of trial and error until I achieve a breakthrough,” she said.

“I encountered a number of problems that were unprecedented, so I wasn’t able to turn to a source or a reference. I guess this is what prompted me to get creative and think outside the box, which eventually put me on the innovation route.

“I find dead ends challenging. When someone tells me that something has never been done, it does not mean that it is not doable. On the contrary, it motivates me to keep going until I find a solution.”

As for the current model of innovation, Ayoub admires the global interconnectedness.

“The mindset now is collaborative rather than competitive,” Ayoub said.

“I am part of inventors’ groups in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region and the Middle East. Most of us got business training at some point in order to secure investment and go into production.”

I find dead ends challenging. It motivates me to keep going to find a solution.

Hadeel Ayoub

Being a innovator has been far from a walk in the park for Ayoub. She believes what really pushed her in her chosen field was her desire to learn something new in every degree she pursued, starting with design, then programming and, finally, technology.

“More often than not I find myself the only woman speaking at a tech conference or giving a tech talk at an event,” she said. “I am proud to represent my country in global exhibitions and am even prouder when I walk away with awards at competitions.

“I hope that I can inspire young girls to experiment with technology and use it to enhance their respective practices.

“I have created a ‘women in tech’ group where we have regular meetings to share our challenges and extend our support each other.”

Based on her experiences, Ayoub has a message for young Saudis: “This is the age of innovation and entrepreneurship. If what you are passionate about doesn’t exist as a field of knowledge, create it.

“Learn how to code. It will be useful in any career you pursue and will enable you to integrate technology into your practice.”

 


Misk Initiatives Center signs 12 deals to develop youth talent

Updated 15 November 2019

Misk Initiatives Center signs 12 deals to develop youth talent

  • MoUs with top firms such as Chinese tech giant Huawei, French oil major Total open new opportunities

RIYADH: The Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Foundation Misk Initiatives Center has signed 12 memorandums of understanding (MoU) on the sidelines of the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh with local and international companies to support and develop youth talent.

Among the companies were the Chinese tech giant Huawei, the French oil firm Total, the Emirati Federal Youth Authority, and the Ministry of Economy and Planning.

The agreements stipulated joint work between the two parties in the fields of talent development in Saudi Arabia and information and communications technology, in accordance with the National Transformation Program 2020 and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. 

This initiative aims to find ways of cooperation and employment opportunities between the two parties.

The MoU signed between the center and the Emirati Federal Youth Authority provides for the enhancement of joint cooperation in support of youth. 

The two parties will seek to discuss future cooperation, to build a strategic partnership between the two parties in exploring potential cooperative opportunities and setting a framework for such cooperation, in addition to organizing the exchange of technologies and innovations through the joint organization of courses, forums and workshops.

The MoU aims at creating a specialized scientific dialogue between the two parties, conducting joint research at the institutes in the field of entrepreneurship and the skills of the future, considering launching joint initiatives, and examining the possibilities of cooperative programs based on the extensive experience of Misk and the Federal Youth Authority.

Misk’s Initiatives Center agreement with Total will promote joint cooperation, find training opportunities for Saudi talent at the company’s headquarters and facilities, and cooperate on educational programs that support entrepreneurship and an ecosystem for startup companies, especially in the fields of energy and technology.

The Misk Global Forum also witnessed the signing of a MoU with “Hub71” to promote learning and leadership among Saudi youth, and enhance opportunities for joint collaboration, in addition to two MoUs with 500 startups and seed stars “to promote joint cooperation between the two parties, to develop and grow the business of startups and provide them with the necessary
environment.”

Misk also signed a MoU with the Public Institution for Education and Global Leadership to promote joint cooperation and achieve the objectives of both sides, to support innovation initiatives that instill the entrepreneurial mindset of young people, as well as the establishment and organization of entrepreneurship approaches. 

Both parties agreed to focus on exploring potential collaborative opportunities related to the Entrepreneurship World Cup, and establish a competition with competitors coming from 170 countries.

Both parties also agreed to support international competitions aimed at identifying the best solutions in various fields and sectors, as well as exchanging programs on entrepreneurship and innovation.

The center has signed a MoU with the Saudi Industrial Development Fund to discuss the possibility of providing training programs and courses for the center’s employees of the Fund and the relevant authorities. In addition to discussing available opportunities for cooperative training within the Fund, and providing opportunities for participation and contribution of the Fund’s staff in Misk’s programs.

The MoU aims to explore the benefits of existing agreements between the two parties with international financial and educational institutions, in order to find opportunities that provide programs, training and educational courses, and granting cooperative trainings for Saudi youth in those global institutions.

The center also signed a MoU with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), aiming to enhance joint cooperation on educational technology and its integration into the educational systems in the Islamic world.

An MoU with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will enhance the cooperation between the two parties in several initiatives, including academic development, training, entrepreneurship and innovation programs.

An MoU with Endeavor Saudi Arabia will support the Kingdom’s youth, enhance their talents and potential, stimulate economic growth, and find ways of cooperation between the two parties that serve their common interests.

The center’s MoU with the Ministry of Economy and Planning aims to spread awareness, provide new information on the education and training of human resources in the administrative and economic fields, youth empowerment, and coordinate efforts to raise their abilities.

The MoU aims to create cooperative training opportunities in local and international institutions with the purpose of workforce growth in the Kingdom’s economic sector, contributing to the development of national competencies in the economy, policies and procedures, strategic planning, in addition to providing job opportunities for graduates from areas that serve the interests of both parties and support the achievement of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.