MANIpulate to communicate as educational aid

Currently for teach the italian sign language (LIS) to deaf and deafblind children are used custom educational materials in two dimensions such as books, images, video, multimedia, etc. Unfortunately, these subsidies are quite limiting because they use only the visual channel and not the tactile channel (essential for deafblind children).

apicartellone LIS

MANIpolare per comunicare” (MANIpulate to communicate) is proposed as a cheap recreational-educational kit built with 3D printing and Arduino, as an aid to learning the LIS fingerspelling (or dactylology) for deaf, deafblind and hearing children. At the moment there is not a similar educational tool like MANIpulate to communicate: the technologies dedicated to this target offer robotic fingerspelling hands used for communication between deaf and deafblind people, while in terms of education there are interactive games that use only the 2D multimedia but do not use something physical and tangible. So, for these reasons, I had the idea to build a kit that is able to put together both: a robotic hand that plays and teaches the LIS fingerspelling in the form of a game in an interactive and three-dimensional manner and therefore can be seen and touched by the user. In this way we can exceed the limits of the two-dimensional educational materials and improve one difficult side of teaching sign language in a versatile and economical way.


Alfabeto LIS - dattilologia

In detail the kit consists of 26 small hands modelled and printed in 3D, one for each letter of the LIS alphabet, that can be printed quickly and inexpensively. In addition to these hands, the kit also includes a robotic fingerspelling hand controlled by Arduino, usable with the 3D printed hands to create interactive games for children. Right now there are three programs for this robotic hand: a demo, a sort of Simon Game for approaching the LIS alphabet and train memory and a more advanced game that allows you to learn fingerspelling.

mano robotica MANIpolare per comunicare

The goal of the project is create an aid for young children which allows them to learn the concepts more easily, thanks to the touch and game: the use of a robotic hand with the colourful 3D hands makes the learning of the sign language more fun and challenging.

In a period of two months, I designed and built an economical and highly customizable product for a niche target, completely Open Source and accessible to anyone who needs it; the product is robust, reliable, functional and realistic. Furthermore, the kit is challenging and fun for children and designed in an innovative and useful way to become a profitable teaching aid for educators. The kit has been tested by various users and educators who have considered it as an innovative and very useful tool. Based on their opinions, MANIpulate to communicate is something that they would use daily and which can significantly improve the education of sign language, both for educators and children.

Currently, the kit is a working prototype (version 1.0) and needs some improvements; in the opinion of experts it has enormous potential and implementing the various optimizations presented in this thesis, the kit would become a perfect tool and extremely useful for many people, not only for the educational point of view, but also for the social integration of many children.

bimbi e MANIpolare per comunicare


Why is it useful to use MANIpulate to communicate?

According to experts interviewed, “MANIpulate to communicate” is useful for several reasons:

  • It can be used as support for the LIS and finger spelling alphabet learning for deaf, deaf-blind and hearing children, but also for adults who would like to approach the sign language (for example, teachers who have to teach in a school for deaf students and they must learn at least the basics of sign language).The programs used for the robotic hand have the function of train memory and to familiarize the user with the LIS alphabet (Simon visual game), while the “Learn the fingerspelling” game needs for teach and demonstrate the fingerspelling.

  • It can be used by educators, communication assistants, psychologists, etc. as a support for teaching. In fact, the kit looks like a game, something attractive and fun for the kids, that can attracts the attention of the children : they can learn by playing! In addition, the kit can replace two-dimensional subsidies and allow to create many games and customize the best teaching tools.

  • The kit is particularly useful for inclusion of deaf children in a class of hearing kids, acting as a social and communicative engagement: children can use the kit as a game and the deaf child can be a leader, having the opportunity to teach the sign language to the others children; In fact the kit, especially the robotic hand, intrigues and stimulates the child and could encourage him to spend more time with the deaf companion and learn sign language.

  • tatto MANIpolare per comunicare

    MANIpulate to communicate is especially useful for the deaf-blind children because, unlike the deaf children, they need touch. With the appropriate changes (tactile LIS is different from LIS) the kit would be very useful as an aid to learning, because educational materials for these children are few and educational aids in three dimensions practically do not exist: usually, are used string and pins, but recently they are prohibited in schools for security reasons. In addition, the robotic hand may have a function of “tactile pregrafism” (pregrafism: condition that precedes the learning of writing) in deafblind children: as non-disabled children will approach to writing, even deafblind children could start the approach to tactile LIS touching and playing with the robotic hand in 3D.

  • The kit is also useful for improving memory function and spelling, and for the development of writing skills and correct decoding of the LIS and the transition between LIS / Italian – Italian / LIS. The kit, thanks to the robotic hand and the colored 3D hands, allows to print the information in the child’s visual memory more quickly, because it learns through play and uses the sensory channel for him more important: the view.

  • Finally, the kit can be used for the improvement of motor skills in able-bodied children: for example, you can use the little hands in 3D to show the positions of the fingers that children will copy. This could be more help to develop their motor skills in an engaging and fun way.



The robotic hand design was courtesy granted from Looqui, model modified from InMoov.