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Brazilian Sign Language app, HandTalk, raises US$750 thousand in Google competition

This post is also available in: esEspañol (Spanish)

Contxto – Earlier this month, Google AI Impact Challenge awarded HandTalk with a grant worth US$750 thousand. The app and website plugin offers real-time translations from Portuguese to Brazilian Sign Language for deaf users.

In Summary

HandTalk is one of 20 winners from the Google AI Impact Challenge, all of whom shared US$25 million in grants. Organizers surveyed over 2,600 applicants using AI to address social and environmental challenges. In the end, the corporation invested in 20 international non-profits, social enterprises, and research institutions.

Besides this pool of money, participants received consulting from Google Cloud and personalized coaching from Google-affiliated AI experts. Additionally, the chosen groups were invited to join Google’s six-month Launchpad Accelerator program.

During this time, participants have the option to develop OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as well as establish timelines for projects. Every partner will also work with a Google expert for regular coaching sessions and mentorship.

In-Depth

With its portion of the money, HandTalk will elevate its platform that automatically translates Portuguese into Libras, also known as Brazilian Sign Language. The company strives to break communication barriers by making its product more accessible to members of the deaf community.

While improving the quality of translations is paramount, HandTalk is also planning to expand its service to include American Sign Language.

Today, there are two main products under HandTalk’s model. With Hugo serving as an animated language interpreter, partners incorporate the Website Translator into their domains through a plugin. From there, Hugo translates texts into Libras.

Not only does this ensure better communication, social responsibility, and innovation, but also compliance with the Brazilian Accessibility Act. Under this ordinance, public and private sector entities must be inclusive to everyone, including people with disabilities.

The second product is the app itself, which essentially functions as a pocket translator. It translates Portuguese text or dictations into Libras, not to mention offering a dictionary for language learners. Since the 2012 founding, HandTalk has seen over two million app downloads.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the world’s 360 million deaf people can’t understand the spoken or written version of their native language. Just in Brazil alone, 70 percent of Brazilian deaf people can’t read or write in Portuguese.

Google expects AI to remedy this predicament, hence its support for HandTalk.

“We received thousands of applications to the Google AI Impact Challenge and are excited that HandTalk was selected to receive funding and expertise from Google,” said a Google representative.

“AI is at a nascent stage when it comes to the value it can have for the social impact sector. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of this work and considering where there is potential for us to do even more.”

The UN named HandTalk as the World’s Best Social App in 2013.

-JA

Jacob Atkins
Jacob Atkins is a journalist specializing in Latin America. He studied journalism and international relations at American University in Washington, D.C. and has previously reported from Chile, Ecuador, Haiti and Mexico. When he isn't writing he's most likely hiking or drawing.

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