Monday, April 25, 2005

"SOFTWARE: Wireless captions empower the deaf"

For more than a quarter-billion of the world's people-including upward of 28 million in the United States-sporting events lack an announcer's commentary and modern multiplexes show only silent movies. But an alliance of private industry and academe in Georgia is promising help for the hearing-impaired and a chance to enjoy public events that depend on sound for communications. To ease the problem wherever it's found-movie theaters, museums, schools, sports arenas, places of worship-Georgia Tech Research Institute developed wearable captioning electronics. Now it's licensed that technology to Peacock Communications Inc. (Marietta, Ga.), which plans to offer the solution to public venues in a software system it calls COMMplements. The system taps into 802.11b wireless capabilities. Offered by more and more public venues to give mobile users easy Internet access, the wireless nodes will transmit text versions of the voices of actors, teachers, sports announcers and clergy. Initially, existing audio will be translated for transmission as text, but eventually all sorts of annotations-statistics during sports events, for example-could be possible. Peacock plans to leverage the growing infrastructure of 802.11 wireless transceivers, already installed in places like stadiums, coffee shops, restaurants and even urban business districts. "Using our system, venues can add text annotations to be received by hearing-impaired patrons on the [patrons'] own personal digital assistants or on special venue-supplied heads-up displays that overlay the captions on, say, a movie," said Leanne West, Georgia Tech Research Institute project director. At the beginning, Peacock Communications plans to market to U.S. venues, such as movie theaters, that already have American-language audio streams running. COMMplements can also translate the audio into multilingual text streams.