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.”

 


Why Saudi-Russian relations are stronger than before

Updated 20 min 30 sec ago

Why Saudi-Russian relations are stronger than before

  • Saudi ambassador to Moscow explains why cooperation is increasing and differences shrinking

RIYADH: The visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin is another significant step toward the steady and continuous strengthening of relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Saudi Ambassador to Russia Rayed Krimly spoke to Arab News about bilateral relations between the two petroleum superpowers.

“Saudi-Russian relations are stronger today than at any time in the past,” the envoy said.

Putin was the first Russian president to ever visit the Kingdom in February 2007, when he met with the late King Abdullah as well as King Salman, who was then the governor of Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has been participating in the G20 Summit since the 2008 Washington meeting, which took place during the global financial crisis, highlighting the Kingdom’s economic importance as having the 10th-biggest sovereign wealth fund and the second-largest oil reserves after Venezuela, possessing around 18 percent of the world’s proven petroleum reserves.


THE LIST

Saudi ambassadors to Russia:

  • Abdul Aziz Khoja (1991-1996)
  • Fawzi bin Shobokshi (1997-1999)
  • Mohammed Abdulwali (1999-2005)
  • Gazi Sherbini (2005-2008)
  • Ali Jaafar (2008-2015)
  • Abdulrahman Al-Rasi (2015-2018)
  • Rayed Krimly (2018–present)

“The visit by President Putin is very important not only to both Russia and Saudi Arabia, but to the region and the world as a whole. Both countries are members of the G20. In fact, G20 summits were the stage of frequent meetings between the Russian president and Saudi leaders,” said Krimly.

King Salman and Putin met for a second time at the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey in 2015, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met the Russian leader at G20 gatherings in 2018 and this year in Osaka.

Putin’s visit will present a great opportunity for high-level discussions between the two countries to further strengthen and expand bilateral cooperation in many fields at regional and international levels.

Relations have developed through several stages beginning when the former Soviet Union became the first country to establish relations with Saudi Arabia in 1926.

However, over time, relations between the two countries waned.

“The (Joseph) Stalin (former Soviet leader) purges inside the Soviet Union included his ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, and relations began a long period of non-existence,” said Krimly.

Russian Ambassador Rayed Krimly

“The communist ideology of the Soviet Union was incompatible with the Islamic identity of Saudi Arabia. During the Cold War between the two superpowers, Saudi Arabia was strongly allied with the West. We were suspicious of Soviet expansionism, of Soviet support to radical regimes and revolutionary upheavals, and of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.”

While there were no diplomatic relations, there were some important common positions between the two countries. More often than not, the two sides voted similarly in the UN in support of the independence of many Arab, African and Asian countries, and defended the rights of Palestinians and the Palestinian cause.

“The second stage saw a resumption of diplomatic relations in 1991. The Soviet Union collapsed, and the Russian Federation was established. However, while relations were maintained and developed, they were not very close,” the ambassador added.

Both sides had other priorities to pursue. The long absence of direct contact meant that each side was not sufficiently familiar with the other. Building trust between the two countries required time.

“The third stage began a few years ago and witnessed a qualitative development and strengthening of Saudi-Russian relations,” said Krimly. “Bilateral visits increased and began to culminate in meetings at the highest levels.”

New fields of cooperation started to flourish, and mutual interests began to deepen. This culminated in King Salman’s visit to Moscow in October 2017, the first official tour of its kind by a Saudi monarch.

The crown prince later visited Russia on several occasions and met Putin, most recently attending the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup in June 2018.

In the 2017 state visit by King Salman, the two countries signed 14 agreements and memorandums of cooperation, covering various fields.

“As the Saudi ambassador in Moscow, my workload has significantly increased in the past year, and keeps increasing. The frequency and level of bilateral meetings keep expanding in significant ways.

The level of trust and direct contact between the leaders has become high enough to ensure further strengthening of bilateral cooperation in all fields.

Rayed Krimly, Saudi ambassador to Russia

“When I began my work in Moscow, we would have an average of one bilateral meeting, at the ministerial level, every month. Nowadays, hardly a week passes without such a bilateral meeting taking place,” added Krimly.

At the beginning of October, they had up to three different ministerial delegations at the same time, as well as six delegations from six agencies.

“As a result, several important agreements between the two countries began to materialize and have been implemented. These include military, economic and cultural fields.

“The level of trust and direct contact between the leaders has become high enough to ensure further and systematic deepening and strengthening of bilateral cooperation in all fields.

“Because of the commitment of the leadership of both countries to strengthen relations, I have not faced serious problems. Saudi leaders, ministers and officials were always supportive and responsive. I also found Russian officials and the Russian people in general, very friendly and cooperative,” the envoy said.

Krimly emphasized the importance for both countries of facing up to the challenge of learning to better understand each other. “The stereotypes propagated by Hollywood misrepresented both societies,” he said.

The ambassador stressed that encouraging direct people-to-people contact between the two sides would help increase understanding among the people of both nations.

“For the first time, thousands of Saudis visited Russia during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They were pleasantly surprised by the warmth and kindness of ordinary Russians, and by the highly modern infrastructure of exceptionally clean and safe Russian cities.

“Like all countries, we may have different views or positions in some areas, but we will continue to discuss them frankly and positively. In brief, areas of common interests and cooperation are continuously expanding, while areas of differences are shrinking.”


TIMELINE SAUDI-RUSSIA RELATIONS IN A NUTSHELL

  • 1926: The then-Soviet Union becomes the first country to recognize the unified Saudi Arabia and establish full diplomatic relations.
  • 1926: The first consul general was Karim Khakimov, a Soviet Muslim of Tatar descent, sometimes called the Soviet Lawrence of Arabia.
  • 1926: Relations improve when in June of the same year the Pan-Islamic Congress of Makkah was called to resolve the dispute over control of the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah. The Soviet Union, with its 30 million Muslims, sent six Islamic scholars to take part in the congress, contrary to its atheistic ideology.
  • 1932: Prince Faisal (who became king in 1964) visits the Soviet Union during his extensive European trip.
  • 1932: The Soviet Muslims are unofficially banned from performing Hajj.
  • 1992: Return of diplomatic ties between two nations after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
  • 2003: Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz visits Moscow.
  • 2007: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets King Abdullah in Riyadh for a high delegation visit, the first official visit from a Russian president to the Kingdom.
  • 2007: Russian President Vladimir Putin receives the King Abdul Aziz Highest Order of Merit.
  • 2015: Saudi sovereign wealth fund commits to a record $10 billion in Russian investment for the next five years. The Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) signed a deal with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) for one of the largest foreign direct investments in Russia.
  • 2016: Saudi Arabia and Russia agree to cooperate in world oil markets to tackle global glut from Jan. 1, 2017.
  • 2017: The Russia-Saudi Investment fund is established with a total committed capital of $6 billion. RSIF focuses on projects that foster economic cooperation between the two nations.
  • 2017: King Salman visits Moscow in what is considered to be the first by a Saudi monarch.
  • 2017: Russia and Saudi Arabia sign $3 billion arms deal.
  • 2017: Saudi’s PIF sign a nonbinding memorandum of understanding with the RDIF to explore joining a consortium of investors in a complex development of former the Tushino airport in Moscow.
  • 2018: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup.
  • 2019: Russia agrees with Saudi Arabia to extend a deal with OPEC on reducing oil output by six to nine months.
  • 2019: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presents Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the RDIF, with the Order of King Abdul Aziz, in recognition of his efforts to strengthen cooperation between the two nations. Dmitriev is the first Russian citizen to be honored with this award after Putin.