There are certain gadgets that have an inherent, “Holy smokes,” factor; the iPhone, self-driving cars, the Nintendo Power Glove to name a few. Pilot by Waverly Labs is one such “Holy Smokes” gadget for the world of language translation. It’s like something from the future, except the future happens to be right now, and it contains way less robot butlers than we / I originally imagined.
This week, Waverly Labs is wrapping up crowdfunding on Indiegogo for their Pilot product, and when it is fully wrapped, they will have raised over $2 million dollars in funding. The campaign was aiming for $75K. One look at Pilot and it’s not hard to see why they so thoroughly crushed the goal.
Calling itself “The World’s First Smart Earpiece”, Pilot is a set of wireless earbuds that performs automatic language translation. To be more precise, the Pilot earbuds connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone app and the app does the translation in real time, passing the content to the listening party. The earbuds capture speech from one person (the speaker must be wearing the earbuds to capture their speech through the built-in microphones), then sends that speech to the smartphone app. Once the app gets the content, it translates what was spoken and then sends the translated words to the other person’s earbuds. It does this while still listening if the first person continues to speak.
The app / earbuds will also offer a “Conference Mode” where several people speaking several different languages can all speak to each other (as depicted in the image above). Along the same lines, the app can be told to feed the smartphone’s speakers so that translated content can be played to several people in a room at once. If high tech isn’t the preferred route, users can also use the app as a basic phrase book.
It’s like the Universal Translator from Star Trek.
Except the design is just a smidge nicer.
Before the earbuds are ready to ship in 2017, Waverly will release the smartphone app on its own, which will use the built-in microphone and speaker to translate between languages. The complete package will eventually retail for $299, and will include 2 sets of earbuds along with the app.
Pilot will launch with the ability to translate European Latin and Germanic languages, which are handled better by online translators like those run by Microsoft and Google. They plan to add additional languages in the Summer and Fall of 2017. Initially, Pilot will only translate the words spoken by someone wearing a set of the earbuds (paired with the app), but future generations will process and translate speech being spoken around anyone wearing the earbuds.
Of course, there are potential weak links in the chain. Anyone who has used Siri knows that even the “best” speech recognition programs don’t always understand you (“No, I don’t have a bomb, I’d just like to call my mother”). The translation will also need to happen very quickly for a real, natural conversation to feel comfortable. Assuming they can tackle these big items, the potential for the product, as their crowdfunding campaigns would suggest, is huge.
Waverly is not the only one on the scene when it comes to real-time translation; Google Translate and Microsoft Skype are also working on providing real time translation within desktop and mobile apps. What sets Waverly apart is putting translation into a small, wearable device you can take literally anywhere you go.
No more panic attacks about not understanding a local language. No more accidentally ordering lobster bisque when you meant to order a cheeseburger. In fact, Andrew Ochoa, one of the creators of Pilot, came up with the idea after struggling to speak with a French woman he really liked.
Could there be more effective inspiration to get something right? Here’s his story:
Stephen Altrogge is a freelance writer based in Tallahassee, Florida. He writes about tech, marketing, faith, and lots of other things. He’s married to Jen and has three young girls. Every day he consumes more coffee than the entire population of Colombia. He knows more about Star Wars than any respectable man should, and he runs more than any sane man would. He once attempted to eat a 2 pound hamburger in under an hour. He failed.
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