NEC develops live phone translation software - What's New?NEC develops live phone translation software
04 December 2007
Reported by Albert Malik
Well known Japanese electronics manufacturer NEC has developed translation software for mobiles that converts sentences moments after they’re spoken.
The company, which makes phones for the Japanese market but has scaled-down its worldwide operations, demonstrated the technology in Tokyo late last week. It’s currently in concept form and was displayed using a FOMA SIMPURE N1, a low-end UMTS handset NEC manufactures for Japan’s largest network, NTT DoCoMo. The software currently only converts spoken Japanese words into text form, before displaying an English translation underneath. However, it does it all in just one second, and unlike the weird, disjointed jumble of words internet translators tend to produce, the NEC solution produces grammatically correct phrases that you can actually use without being laughed at.
NEC believes its translation technology is the first to provide near-instant translation without any help from websites accessed through over the air. The internal dictionary understands 50,000 Japanese words with a focus on travel phrases, as NEC thinks they’re the most likely type of words that owners would want to have translated. At the demonstration, NEC was showing off the technology’s ability to translate phrases such as “Please call a taxi.”, “Where can I buy a toothbrush?” and “Please lend me your corkscrew.”
The translation software is 20 megabytes large, including both voice-recognition and translation functions, yet compressed into a tiny microchip that’s directly soldered onto the phone’s printed circuit board. The software works as a core function of the phone’s operating system, allowing it to be directly referenced by other functions (such as the messaging client or embedded WAP browser).
However, in its current Japanese to English form, the software is somewhat limited in functionality. While it can translate from spoken Japanese to written English, NEC says there’s no current plans to translate English into other languages, citing difficulty deciphering spoken English as the major barrier.
NEC said it hasn’t decided when the software will become commercially available, but plans to develop it further so that it can be embedded on other kinds of devices including electronic dictionaries (popular and widespread in Japan) and digital cameras. The company said its ultimate aim is to "realise a society in which anybody can communicate with anyone else anywhere, anytime."
This is a great idea for a practical feature on mobile phones. As most travellers nowadays take their phones with them on holidays and business trips, such translation software would allow you to communicate directly with people who don’t understand English or your own native language. While NEC currently finds it too hard to work on recognising spoken English, we hope that the company will change its mind and pursue further development of the software in languages other than its native Japanese, because it has huge potential as a useful phone feature.