Celebrate the death of the phrasebook with some smart, wearable tech

Image: Waverley Labs
Alex Stockwell

Voice Tech startup aims to bring us all a little closer together

The direction of travel for tourism and international commerce is an inevitable one way street. But, what’s one of the biggest obstacles to getting out there making the most of it? Language.

So, imagine being able to speak and listen with anyone in the world, and, in real time, have what was being said automatically translated directly into your ear. Surely, that’s some far off future nonsense, or at least the mad world of science fiction?

It seems not, as there are currently a few products emerging and which are making science fiction a reality. And, once here, they may have the potential to completely revolutionize communications on a truly global scale.

Problematic predictions

You might have seen those famous Jean-Marc Côté illustrations from the 1900 World Exhibition which offered up a nineteenth century view of what the year 2000 might look like.

Of course, with hindsight, they are either faintly fanciful, (we’re thinking dometicated whales), or remarkably prescient, as, only this week, Airbus presented its concept for flying taxi cabs at the Geneva Motor Show.

Image: Jean-Marc Côté. Public DomainIn a nutshell, in a world of Amazon Echo and driverless cars, technology once seen as the stuff of fantasy is inching towards reality, and in ways that often surprise and amaze. And with that in mind, let us take a closer look at the brave new world of Pilot from Waverly Labs, the cutting-edge of wearable translation technology and software.

Am I saying that right?

At last week’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), Waverly labs demonstrated their prototype version of Pilot that is due to launch later this year.

Pilot is essential an earpiece that comfortably fits the user and is linked to an app used for translation and voice recognition. This then converts what’s being said into the listener’s native language. This obviously removes any need for awkward exchanges over well-worn phrasebooks as it directly plays a translated version of what you are trying to say, making life easier for everyone.

Initially, the system supports English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. More languages are slated.

But, from the outset, there will also be an option to use Pilot as just a music device, with the further option to wirelessly share the beats with someone else.

An Internet connection is required in order to make Pilot work, but plans are already underway to take it offline. Also, it’s worth noting that the idea currently requires two people to have the earpiece and app, but future updates may address this.

Early impressions of the device suggests that Pilot can in fact handle a very basic conversation, and, although the company itself says that there are only a few seconds delay, it may struggle with strong accents or local dialects. Nonetheless, Waverly Labs insist that, given time, the machine translation will improve. We have no grounds to doubt them; voice recognition has come a long way since the days of Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

To wit, Waverly Labs demonstrated at MWC a conference mode for Pilot that allows group conversations to take place with everyone speaking their own language using one phone as a speakerphone. The potential here is something to really get excited about.

The idea has already received nearly 4.5 million dollars on Indiegogo to bring the product to market, and early indications suggest that the retail price will be around the $300 mark.

That sounds pretty good to us!

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