[IMAGE: FLICKR USER MARIA MORRI]
BY TINA AMIRTHA3 MINUTE READ
This story contains interviews with Yan Auerbach, COO of SpeechTrans; and Joe D’Alonzo, resident physician at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
It seems odd that a speech translation company would build a smartwatch that mainly lets you answer your phone hands-free. But this wearable device, the Bluetooth Wristwatch Band, can also sync up with the company’s smartphone and tablet translation app via its recently released proprietary API, making it half phone, half foreign communicator.
The wristband, which launched with little fanfare in March, also tells the time, lets you listen to music and access the contacts from your phone or tablet. It even alerts you when you’ve stepped too far away from your phone, a reminder not to forget it. But it’s the translation app that draws users to this wearable device.
The Bluetooth Wristwatch Band uses SpeechTrans’s new API to make its translation and dictation tech work. But it’s not the only device that uses the API. Large customers, like HP and Cisco, are currently using the SpeechTrans API to improve the way they do business internationally as well as provide apps for their consumer devices. But the wristband brings the API’s speech capabilities to everyday consumers in a unique way.
The app translates to and from 44 different languages using speech recognition for voice and chat. It’s also a tool to simply dictate and record your speech. SpeechTrans’s API links the app’s capabilities to the wristband. At the moment, however, the wristband’s other features trump its translation capabilities.ADVERTISING
Professionals that are constantly on their feet, like doctors, have been using SpeechTrans’s translation app on their mobile devices when they need to translate urgent information to and from the people they are serving. But these users mainly use the wristband as a hands-free Bluetooth device for calls and stick to the mobile app for translation.
“The translation isn’t perfect yet, and it takes patient cooperation. But it has saved me from forgetting my phone,” says Joe D’Alonzo, a resident at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. He usually tells patients to speak slowly and directly into the microphone when he does use the translation feature.
D’Alonzo only just started using the wristband, but the stand-alone mobile translation app has helped him before. During D’Alonzo’s medical training, he had a patient who needed an emergency C-section. The problem was, she only spoke French, and D’Alonzo only spoke Spanish. He used the app to explain that she would be prepped for surgery because her baby’s heart rate was crashing.
The wristband-plus-app somewhat resembles a real-time translator on your wrist. Essentially, the wristband hardware acts as a hands-free microphone and speaker for your cell phone or tablet. If the translation app is installed on the secondary device, and you connect the wristband to it, the app transcribes what you say onto the smartphone’s or tablet’s screen.
At that point, you need to touch a button on the smartphone’s screen to validate the text. Then, a computerized voice reads out the translated text in the second language. The translating function isn’t completely hands-free if you use the wristband, naturally pushing users back to just using the smartphone app.
In some ways, however, the wristband does win over a smartphone. The microphone is omni-directional, so it will pick up anyone who is talking nearby. If you were just translating with your smartphone, you would have to position the phone in front of your conversation partner.
“One of the situations that we’ve found ourselves in is when we’re over in a different country where we’re trying to speak to a complete stranger, who doesn’t understand us at all, holding a phone up to their face is a little obscure and, at some point, somewhat offensive,” says Yan Auerbach, SpeechTrans’s cofounder and COO.
So it’s no wonder that SpeechTrans is spanning the wearable tech space. The company aims to enable speech recognition-enabled translation across any device, conforming to any situation. And SpeechTrans’s new API provides the basis for integrating its translation technology into even more devices.
“We try to make technology integrate into people’s daily lives as seamlessly as possible, rather than obstruct their communications,” says Auerbach. This smartwatch is moving in a direction that could make machine translation less awkward than holding a cell phone up to someone’s face.