|Texting in traffic|
I'm a big texter. I recently got an Android phone - an LG Ally - and all of a sudden I find myself using the phone's messaging function or Google Talk a lot. I love how I can see the entire conversation on the phone.
I am not fluent in American Sign Language, but if I were, I know I would love a phone that could show video easily and accurately enough for me to sign with someone else. And luckily enough, researchers at the University of Washington are working on just that: a real-time video compression scheme that will allow people to communicate effectively in ASL over their phone.
According to their website, "...due to the low bandwidth of the U.S. wireless telephone network, even today's best video encoders likely cannot produce the quality video needed for intelligible ASL. Instead, a new real time video compression scheme is needed to transmit within the existing wireless network while maintaining video quality that allows users to understand semantics of ASL with ease."
In order to work on the project, the group conducted field tests by giving study participants the phones for three weeks, and having them answer usability questions after each call. According to one student, "With the MobileASL phone people can see each other eye to eye, face to face, and really have better understanding."
The iPhone has an app called "FaceTime" - I'm not sure if there is a similar app for Android. It's the app you may have seen in all of those commercials for the iPhone 4 lately. To take advantage of FaceTime in a way that will let you sign with it, you need to be in an area with a very fast connection, and of course, you have to buy an iPhone and pay data usage fees. By contrast, MobileASL could work with any phone that has a video camera on the same side as its screen, and FaceTime uses 10 times the bandwith of MobileASL.
With any luck, soon this will be something that all signers will have access to.