Mauro Rossini, Carmen Marino and Andrea del Principe, Radiotelevisione Italiana
The Rai Virtual LIS platform enables the production of content in Italian sign language (LIS) using avatars to create new opportunities and services for deaf people in contexts where human LIS interpreters are not provided.
The platform is based on a real-time graphics engine while avatars and animations are developed by using the latest 3D computer graphics technologies. The results achieved by the platform in terms of fluidity and intelligibility have been positively evaluated by many experts and deaf signers.
The use of avatars in this way makes it possible to foresee a whole range of new services for deaf people: sign language descriptions of monuments, artworks, architectural contexts, cultural and tourist information; the translation into sign language, through a virtual actor, of educational content, lectures, training courses and books; the provision of information for travellers in railway stations and airports; and on-demand translation services for content that, owing to the specificity of the topics and lexical complexity, may be difficult to understand.
In the past year the Rai Virtual LIS platform has been enriched with two software modules: Teaching and Weather Forecast.
Teaching is a web application that allows students to learn sign language and generate new content in sign language through the virtual actors. The application is divided into two sections: the “Dictionary” section makes it possible to view all the LIS signs available in the database, animated by the avatar, while the “Translation” section is dedicated to the generation of new content in sign language by displaying the Italian text and the corresponding sequence of LIS signs. Currently about 1,000 signs have been digitized, and the corpus of signs can be expanded incrementally.
The Weather Forecast application downloads weather forecasts from the Rai national Teletext service every day and performs an automatic translation into sign language. The output of the system is a video in Italian sign language. The translation is based on a deterministic algorithm invented and patented by the Rai Centre for Research, Technological Innovation and Experimentation (CRITS).
The Rai Virtual LIS platform aims to extend the use of Italian sign language for better social inclusion of deaf people in cultural and didactic contexts, to provide free tools for experimenting with new forms of communication, and to facilitate relationships among children, including those with communication difficulties.
The platform is currently based on Italian sign language but it can be extended to include other sign languages in order to create an international sign language platform.
Consistent with its public service mandate, Rai is considering making the Virtual LIS platform available free of charge to deaf communities, associations, museums, schools, universities, public and private institutions wishing to provide non-profit content and services in sign language for deaf people.
This article was first published in issue 49 of tech-i magazine.