Mobile Sign Language Startup Not Tone-Deaf to Ann Arbor Area’s Promise

12/1/10

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words like “milk” and “food”—and will test the waters with this baby app. There will be a three-dimensional character on the screen that does the signing for simple words that you either enter into the app, or speak into it (although he is not certain the voice recognition portion will be ready for this first app.) Parents enter the words, and the avatar signs it.

“We’re just trying to play with the technology and get a feel for exactly what our interpreter is going to look like in the end,” Gilbert says. “So, this baby sign app is just sort of a tool that we’re putting out along the way. We hope the people find it entertaining and educational as well.”

The apps, Gilbert says, will go for between $3 and $10, and will be directed at a hearing audience primarily—parents who want to communicate with their pre-lingual children with baby sign, American Sign Language students, interpreters and friends/family of ASL users. The market size for that, Gilbert says, is at least 5 million.

The company’s long-range vision is to develop “virtual interpreters” geared toward two groups. The first is a hand-held version for the deaf and hard of hearing who use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication. Gilbert estimates this market at about 2 million people. The other is a stand-alone, Web-based version for businesses or organizations who would use this to help satisfy compliance with the Americans with
Disabilities Act. Gilbert estimates that market at about a half-million people. He says the company is still looking at prices, but more limited versions are marketed by other companies to businesses customers for between $5,000 and $8,000 per installation.

As for the question of whether the company will remain in Michigan, that really is not a question at all, he says. He and Yu are not going anywhere.

“We really like this area and the greater Ann Arbor area is very conducive to the entrepreneurial spirit,” Gilbert says. “We have no plans to move. Hopefully, we’ll be another Ann Arbor success story.”

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