Man Builds “Translation Glasses”

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The tech world has been eagerly awaiting Google’s “Project Glass” ever since it was announced, and Google’s dramatic demonstration of the project at the Google I/O conference in April has only fueled the fires of anticipation.

In fact, one developer was so impatient that he went ahead and build his own version of the augmented reality glasses. Will Powell’s creation is clunkier and less fashion-forward than Google’s product, but that’s to be expected. What’s amazing is that one man was able to come close to replicating the efforts of one of the world’s largest corporations, even adding a real-time translation feature.

In a blog post, Powell demonstrated how he modified his homemade augmented-reality glasses to provide real-time translation from English to Spanish and back again. In the video below, Powell’s sister speaks Spanish while he replies in English. The Spanish-to-English translations are shown, Terminator-style, as subtitles on the inside of Powell’s glasses, while she listens to the Spanish-to-English translations through a headset.

The glasses use Microsoft’s Translation API to provide the translations. As with all machine translation, it would be unrealistic to expect perfect (or even intelligible) translations 100% of the time.

However, as Slate notes:

[T]hose of us who are more interested in chatting briefly with a new acquaintance who doesn’t speak the same language, or just trying to order a sandwich in a foreign country, don’t need polished translations that won’t inadvertently spark military or diplomatic fights.

All in all, it’s an interesting experiment. It seems almost inevitable that Google’s own glasses will include a similar feature using Google Translate when they come out, or that an app will be available to provide this functionality. While you obviously shouldn’t take shortcuts with important communications, these could prove quite useful for casual situations in which a skilled interpreter is not practical.

Here’s the video. What do you think?