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Huawei's StorySign app enhances story time for deaf children

A mixture of AI and augmented reality will bring books to life for children who cannot hear them being read.

Star will sign you a story.

Learning to read is a time-consuming and complex process for any kiddo, but the 32 million deaf children in the world face an extra challenge. They must learn how to interpret the words they see on the page without using the sound-based phonics system that most school children rely upon or being able to hear a teacher or parent repeat words back to them.

Chinese phone maker Huawei believes it's come up with a solution in the form of a free app called StorySign that uses a combination of augmented reality and AI to display sign language next to the text while a child is reading along. 

When the app is open and held over the page, a character named Star, created by Aardman (the animators behind Wallace and Gromit), recognizes and signs the text to the child, highlighting each word as she goes. The idea is to enhance the learning experience for deaf children who are currently underserved when it comes to early years reading resources, and also make it possible for deaf children and their parents to read along together.

The app, which the company released on Monday in 10 countries across Europe, is compatible with just a single book (Where's Spot?) at launch in the UK and works only on Android phones. Huawei was unable to confirm whether the app would also be available on iPhones in future.

In spite of these initial limitations, Huawei's hope is that by working with publishing partner Penguin, the library of titles will grow.

"We're very hopeful that it will make a significant impact in the deaf community, helping more deaf children learn how to read at the same level as hearing children," said Mark Wheatley, executive director for European Union of the Deaf in a statement. "We also hope the launch of StorySign will support a wider conversation about ensuring equality in every aspect of their lives for deaf people across Europe."

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