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This In-Ear Language Translator Feels Like the Stuff of Science Fiction

Whether it’s the Babel Fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide or Star Trek‘s Universal Translator, long have humans dreamed of a tool that would facilitate instantaneous communication between people who speak different languages. Sure, you could just learn another language, but that takes time and it’s not always possible. Waverly Labs has created an in-ear translator that serves as one potential solution to the problem. It’s called the Pilot, and it can translate an entire conversation between two people, while they’re talking to one another.

The Pilot connects to a smartphone app, which does the bulk of the work when it comes to the actual translation; the in-ear devices work via Bluetooth. For the moment, the Pilot can only translate French, Spanish, Italian and English, but the developers are planning to create more languages for it eventually. They’re starting a crowd-fund for the device soon.

Waverly Labs already has some competition in the field of translation devices. As another example, I’ve also seen this wearable translator called “ili” popping up online, mostly thanks to their regrettable marketing stunt. In the commercial, the ili wearer walks around and asks non-English speaking women whether they’d like to kiss him. Turns out all the women in the video were paid actresses–or at least, that’s what the video description insists, after the campaign received some criticism. Thank goodness? It’s still a pretty embarrassing watch, though!

In other translation-related news, Google Translate released a major update this past week, introducing the “Tap to Translate” button for Android users who want an easier way to translate text on their phones. The app also added an offline mode to its iOS version, so users can still use it even if they’re in a place with spotty internet access. Lastly, the app has added Chinese to its available Word Lens languages. Word Lens can translate text in visual form, so if you point your phone at a sign, it’ll help you read it. It looks like this:

Milk_Chinese-English

Pretty futuristic stuff … when it works! All of these apps still seem a little shaky. But when they work, wow.

(via Forbes, image via Google Blog)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).