The universal translator is such a ubiquitous presence on science fiction TV that it’s not surprising that someone would actually try and make one. Engineer Will Powell’s inspiration, however, wasn’t Star Trek or Doctor Who; it was Google’s Project Glass.
Powell created his own version of the smart glasses and hooked them up to a computer running Microsoft’s translation API. His Bluetooth microphone-equipped glasses picked up the Spanish being spoken by his sister, translated it, and then presented him with English subtitles.
Right now, there’s a bit of a delay as the software processes the live speech, not to mention it can only handle basic phrases. But while the D.I.Y. translator may not be practical right now, it’s not hard to imagine how important technology like this could be in the future.
Consider Project Glass. While the idea of checking our email or video-chatting via glasses is kind of cool, the most intriguing part of Google’s promotional video is when the wearer gets step-by-step directions in real-time as he walks through New York. That kind of interaction with the real world is where the true potential of Project Glass lies.
Real-time translation would be even more impressive. Plenty of people would likely pay for a pair of Google’s glasses if they could go to a foreign country and suddenly understand what people were saying.
This video also proves that there are a lot of people out there who would be willing to develop programs for Project Glass, perhaps even making apps for a future augmented-reality app store. Granted, Google would have to provide major oversight, lest a malfunctioning program cause someone to run into a wall or crash their car. Still, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be a surplus of eager software developers ready to test the limits of what Google’s glasses can do.