We’re still some way off from the kind of ‘universal translator’ that kept episodes of Star Trek free from subtitles, but the technology to make trips abroad a bit easier for people who don’t speak the local language is improving in leaps and bounds.
Word Lens is an iPhone app that takes the idea of instant automatic language translation to a new level and it makes use of ‘augmented reality’ to translate whatever words the iPhone camera is pointed at to and from English.
It’s impressive stuff — you just point your iPhone at a sign you don’t understand and the app overlays them with a translated version. In fact it’s so impressive that the technology almost seems like something from science fiction, but there are a few catches.
First, Word Lens is currently limited to English and Spanish, although other languages are apparently in the pipeline. Second, according to Spanish-speakers, the accuracy of the translation leaves something to be desired, although this is obviously something that can be easily improved.
Word Lens is free, but Spanish-English and English-Spanish translation packs cost £2.99 each. Otherwise, the app will only reverse words as a demonstration of the technology, but even this is clever stuff — detecting letters and words using a wobbly handheld camera is no mean feat.
Word Lens may not be quite there yet, but it’s not hard to imagine how an iPhone equipped with a future version of this app could be used to translate anything from menus to road signs on trips to other countries.