Microsoft has teamed up with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to create software that understands sign language and translates it into spoken words and text. It can also turn speech into text, allowing deaf and hearing people to communicate directly.
Using a Kinect sensor the Kinect Sign Language Translator Project, released this week in prototype form, will not only allow communication between the deaf and hearing but will also translate between different languages of sign. So one deaf person could chat easily with another from a different country.
The deaf person signs to the system which translates into written and spoken words. The hearing person can then reply verbally and it will be displayed in written form for the deaf person.
While this is really exciting for communication between the deaf and hearing it's still in its infancy with lag between translations. But with technology moving at such a fast pace it won't be long before your mobile can manage it, or perhaps Google Glass for a totally seamless chat. Imagine a doctor and deaf patient chatting back and forth with eye contact without needing to write things down.
Here's hoping this makes it on to the next iteration of Google Glass. Even Star Trek communicators will seem under-powered compared to that.