Written by Maker Faire Rome
There are an estimated 100,000 deaf people in Italy today, and a startup called LiMiX is revolutionizing the way they can communicate. LiMiX’s main product, Talking Hands, is a glove and accompanying app that translates Italian Sign Language (or LIS, Lingua dei Segni Italiana) to voice. The implications are life-altering. An estimated 99% of the world’s population doesn’t understand sign language. No longer will that matter. Signed words are translated to signals that are then sent to a voice synthesizer on a smartphone and spoken, dissolving language barriers.
LiMiX cofounders Francesco Pezzuoli and Dario Corona met and started collaborating as students at the University of Camerino, located in central-eastern Italy (and established nearly 700 years ago!). Their development was progressing, but In 2016, something extraordinary happened that kickstarted their trajectory: they won the R.O.M.E. (Rome Outstanding Maker of Europe) Prize at the 2016 Maker Faire Rome, along with the 100,000 euro prize money. The selection criteria were based on social impact of the proposed idea and economic sustainability (real chance to establish themselves and grow in the market). They were also able to secure valuable connections at Maker Faire Rome to help accelerate their development and production of this groundbreaking device. The team is currently working toward a product release in 2019.
We connected with Dario to learn more.
- How did you and Francesco first meet and start collaborating?
We met at university as students, during a research project for the development of a lower-limb exoskeleton for disabled people. We worked really well together from the very beginning, and creating a startup together was an obvious decision when we realized that Francesco’s idea of Talking Hands has enormous potential.
- What inspired you to apply your skills to finding a solution for hearing-impaired people?
In 2013, an American company organized a competition for the best idea for the application of EMG technology, which enables understanding the fingers’ movement through the detection of muscle activity. Francesco thought to use this technology to translate sign language. Unfortunately, EMGs cannot recognize the positions of single fingers, so it was not enough for a sign language translation application. But the idea remained, and after two years, we decided to use our skills to develop the right technology for this purpose.
- How long have you been working on Talking Hands? What has the R&D process been like?
We started at the beginning of 2015, creating the first functional prototypes using gardening gloves, hand-sewing the sensors, implementing commercial components, and deeply studying the scientific literature to find the best algorithm solution.
During 2016, we moved to 3D printing to realize custom components, optimizing the sensors’ position and operation. We also started different collaborations with other companies to realize specific electronics components for Talking Hands. With that prototype, we won the Rome Prize at Maker Faire Rome 2016.
We spent all of 2017 achieving a final product, and the first batches will be available in June 2018. We plan to spend the whole summer testing the product on a sample of final users to be sure to enter the market in 2019 with the best product.
- Tell us about how LiMiX was formed.
Francesco and I formed LiMiX in 2015, with the fundamental support of our university and our professors. The social structure is completed by EOS Spa which is a leader in the field of science and industrial research, and Eta Srl, an automotive company. The university gives us an office, and it enriches LiMiX’s internal scientific know-how, while the two companies support us in business management.
- Has LiMiX worked on projects other than Talking Hands so far?
During these first years, LiMiX has been focused on Talking Hands. We also considered other applications for our technology, which can be seen as a low-cost gesture-recognition system, but we will develop them after entering the market with Talking Hands.
- Tell us about winning the Rome Prize at Maker Faire 2016. How did that affect production of Talking Hands?
Before the Rome Prize at Maker Faire 2016, we were leading to a dead end: we did not have enough funds to improve our prototype and we were trying to sell our know-how and expertise. The funds we received with the Rome Prize were fundamental to continuing the project, and, thanks to the following visibility, we were able to start fruitful collaborations with very important companies, such as Arrow Electronics. Summarizing, the Rome Prize has been fundamental for the realization of Talking Hands.
- How would you describe Maker Faire Rome to someone who has never been there?
Maker Faire Rome is an incredible event, one of the best of its kind. It is a place where little startups and makers can share their ideas and skills and even relate with big companies such as Intel, Google, Arrow Electronics, Arduino, and many others. Moreover, an entire sector is always reserved for universities, which can exhibit the more advanced technologies and studies.
Maker Faire is a wonderful event for everyone: makers, companies, technology enthusiasts, and people who want to glimpse into the future. I am always happy to see so many families as visitors. Maker Faire Rome is the perfect place to fire up children’s curiosity for all the sciences.
- Your project is a wonderful example of makers using their skills to affect positive change in the world. What advice do you have for other makers who want to make a difference?
Our advice is very simple: Work hard! We meet so many young people with wonderful ideas who never try to make them real. Once you have found your idea, the problem you want to overcome, you must only work hard on your product.
Do not search for money, funds. or more people before having a product, or at least a prototype. Take your time, realize your product, test it, change it, improve it. If you realize an excellent product, then money, marketing, and selling will come.
Thank you, Dario! We are looking forward to seeing Talking Hands come to fruition! Congratulations to your team on such a meaningful and powerful project!
This year’s Maker Faire Rome, the largest DIY festival in all of Europe, is taking place October 12–14, and the call for project proposals just got extended. The new deadlines are as follows. You don’t want to miss your chance to share your project at Maker Faire Rome!