There’s no comprehensive app out there yet for learning sign language in VR, however a student at the computer science department of the Bern University of Applied Science is using Oculus Quest’s native hand-tracking to see just how close we might get to achieving that goal with today’s tech.

Cédric Girardin, an apprentice at the Switzerland-based university’s Computer Perception and Virtual Reality research group (cpvrLab), created a basic Quest app that can recognize and teach users up to 23 hand signs from the German fingerspelling alphabet.

Every sign that you can perform is recognized and displayed in 3D; the application analyzes your hand in realtime and validates whether the user is performing the sign correctly or not.

As Girardin’s final project, the so-called ‘VR-Trainingsapplication for finger alphabet’ is still limited to the German fingerspelling method, however Girardin intends on making it open source soon.

Girardin says in a Reddit post that the application compares a saved hand model with the current hand pose, making it technically possible to add “any type of handsign [sic] to the application and it will validate it.”

If you want to try it our for yourself, it’s actually available for free to sideload on Quest via SideQuest, the unofficial library of Quest games, experiences, and tools. Follow this handy guide on how to sideload apps on Quest to try it out for yourself.

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More Robust Sign Language in VR?

VR users have been communicating in a simplified version of sign language for some time now. However deaf users have had trouble with the current state of VR, such as VR Chat user ‘Quentin’ who is a volunteer translator and hearing person.

Speaking to 2 Girls, 1 Podcast, Quentin explains that because VR controllers don’t allow for full finger tracking that accurate signing simply isn’t possible. This, Quentin says, has birthed new signs so deaf users can still communicate among each other in VR for now, however more development is still required so users can express themselves in their native, non-modified sign language.

With the existence already of several types of sign language divided by language groups, and in some cases region, a more accurate input method is needed so it doesn’t further complicate matters.

That said, optical hand-tracking like that seen on Quest isn’t a perfect method, but it does seem to address some of the issues seen in the deaf VR community thus far. Check out Quentin and a few other VR Chat signers in action below:

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 4,000 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • The thing of the VR-sign-language is interesting

  • Jim P

    That’s cool

  • sparkle

    In my opinion it is wrong and misleading to state one would be able to learn even basic sign language with this set up. You might be able to capture signs made by one hand (like the finger alphabet) but sign language involves two hands, the torso, arms, shoulders, head, eyes and lips. So NO, learning even rudimentory signs through this setup is not possible.
    If you care to join us in a search for a low tech setup through which one would be able to learn proper sign language, and pick up some real knowledge about sign language, contact me :)

    • sparkle

      the site knows my email address

      • Brenden Gilbert

        it is possible BTW. I am able to do sign language in VR w/ the latest Hand tracking improvements. Never say never :)

    • carpi

      hello i would like to know more about this