Can This Device Be the Universal Translator?
Tom Spendlove posted on June 09, 2016 | 6411 views

Andrew Ochoa laughs when he explains the origin of his Pilot translator. He met a French girl, he says, and communication between the two was difficult. That’s not exactly the problem statement I would allow my students to give during design presentations but it’s the idea behind Pilot, a smart earpiece that translates languages between users.

Ochoa and his team from Waverly Labs are running an Indiegogo campaign for the Pilot device, and the campaign has been wildly successful but several detractors are loudly asking if the device is real and functional. Google, Skype, and several other companies are currently working on translator technology but Ochoa claims to have the first wearable translator that could be released as early as May, 2017.











The process makes sense at first glance. The earpiece takes speech in one language, passes it through a language translation smartphone app, and then sends the translated speech to the second user’s earpiece.  The app consists of speech recognition, machine translation and speech synthesis components. The technology inside the earpiece includes near-field magnetic induction, noise canceling microphones, an ARM processor, and a lithium ion battery that is expected to give four to six hours of talk time. The campaign page itself is short on technical details and exact components used.

My big question is the lag time experienced between one user speaking and the other hearing translated words. The campaign page says that the lag will take a few seconds but the campaign videos make the translation look almost instantaneous. There are several other critics who say that the Pilot is somewhere between a scam and wildly misrepresenting what the wearable can do. Even the title 'universal translator' is a long way off from the first offering of romance languages, and then adding more languages every few months. A great article at Forbes talks about Paul Armstrong’s interview with Ochoa, and another essay from French blogger Michel Nizon talks about Pilot on a more broad level.

Giving Waverly Labs the benefit of the engineering doubt, it’s very interesting to see a group take existing technologies and convert them into new applications. If the translator ends up working in the year between now and May 2017 they will still have beaten tech giants to market. The campaign has earned more than $2,000,000 with a little more than two weeks left before it closes. 


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