A new project is under way aimed at developing a virtual Irish sign language (ISL) interpreter.

It is hoped that when complete the system will be capable of translating ISL into computer generated speech, and changing speech back into ISL through a computer generated avatar.

The aim is to make it easier for deaf and non-deaf people to communicate with one another.

The new three to five-year project is being led by researchers in UCD who are part of the SFI backed Lero software research centre and is being carried out in conjunction with Microsoft.

Augmented reality technology will be used to help deliver the new service along with Microsoft Skype, through the Skype4Good initiative.

"This is an exciting research programme which could transform the ability of deaf people in the future to communicate across education, work, social and family situations with non-deaf individuals and groups who do not know sign language," said Dr Anthony Ventresque, Lero researcher and Director of the UCD Complex Software Lab who is leading the programme

The team at UCD has already developed a prototype that can interpret sign language hand gestures.

It uses a combination of HoloLens mixed reality goggles, Azure cognitive services, Xbox camera and LUIS.AI language understanding technology.

Next, the researchers plan to make the prototype more realistic and useful by integrating facial expression recognition and generation into the interpreter,

Philip Power, a deaf student studying law at UCD, said his reaction when he first used the prototype was this would be a great benefit for deaf people.