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Uhuru lauds young Kenyan innovator who invented smart sign language gloves


President Uhuru Kenyatta praised a 26-year-old Kenyan innovator who earned global recognition with his invention of smart hand gloves capable of converting sign language movements into audio speech.

Roy Allela, a graduate of the University of Nairobi (UoN), holds a bachelor’s degree in Microprocessor Technology and Instrumentation, invented the smart glove in order to communicate with his then 6-year-old niece, who was born deaf.

Speaking at Gusii Stadium during the 57th Mashujaa Day celebrations, President Kenyatta lauded Allela as part of a new generation of Kenyan heroes.

He said the nation must also celebrate her young people: “They are our heroes and yet we so often forget it.”

“My appeal to our young people is not to be afraid of paying the price. If you have a dream, pay the price and the dream will come to you; if you have a challenge, pay the price and it will resolve itself. But the young people who will embrace the positive and the possible, will emerge as heroes and ‘makers of things,” he said.

According to Allela, his niece encountered difficulties while communicating with members of her family since none of them is conversant with sign language.

The smart gloves – dubbed Sign-IO – have flex sensors that are placed on each finger and have the capacity to quantify the bend of a finger and process the letter being signed.

Using Bluetooth, the gloves are connected to a mobile application, that Allela also developed, which then converts the sign into audio speech.

“My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” says Allela.

Allela works as a technical evangelist and program manager at Intel, in addition to teaching data science at the prestigious Oxford University.

On his website, he describes his interests as including machine learning, computer vision and embedded systems.

His goal is to oversee the installation of at least two pairs of smart gloves in every school for hard-of-hearing students in Kenya.

Allela also hopes that his smart invention will curtail the stigma associated with deafness and speech impediments.

Other young innovators recognized by the president include Michael Mwaisakenyi and Ken Gicira, who created an automated weeding robot to help farmers eliminate the need for herbicides in their crops.

“These young innovators not only delivered high quality of work, they also did so at a fraction of the set cost,” Mr Kenyatta said.