Star Trek style universal translator closer to reality?


Have you ever wished you had the Universal translator from Star Trek for your own use? We may be one step closer to making that a reality….

The universal translator has to be one of the greatest inventions in all of Star Trek lore, a mysterious device, apparently installed in the ear (Deep Space Nine: Little Green Men) that not only translates all known languages, but can also adapt to almost any new language and translate it within a few words (unless you happen to speak in metaphors, in which case Shaka, when the walls fell…). It also manages to synchronize lip movements to the target language (right?).

Yes, we’re a ways away from that. 132 years if you follow Star Trek canon. Though considering the iPad I’m writing this on is considerably smaller then Captain Picard’s iPad, I’m thinking we may be a few steps ahead of canon at this point.

A Japanese company named Logbar, has released an interesting piece of technology called the ili Wearable Translator  which translates from English to Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish. While it is reported to do this without any internet connection and in as little as 0.2 seconds all while weighing in at only 42 grams there are certainly some drawbacks.

The good…

At the push of a button it translates spoken English to an audible translation of three different languages, and reportedly quite accurately, at a remarkable speed. That alone would put it in a class of its own but add in that it doesn’t need an internet connection of any sort and you have a potential game changer.

The bad…

It has a library advertised as ‘optimized for travel situations’, so we can assume it’s not going to be used to give a guest lecture, or at the least not in an optimized way. But the real weakness here appears to be the words ‘one way translation’. That’s right, you can order your lunch, or challenge a Spanish-speaking Klingon to a fight to the death, but as for their response…. you’re on your own.

So it’s not  on the Star Trek tech level, but…

That doesn’t make it all bad, as self-styled world traveler, I love to go outside my comfort zone, off the beaten path and get myself into awkward and difficult situations all to see the real places I visit. While the tourists are lining up for the bus to the picturesque waterfall, I’m the guy walking up the side of the other side of the mountain and looking for an interesting plate of food or uniquely local drink along the way.

Related Story. 5 bits of Star Trek technology that became real. light

As a part of this behaviour and my quest to reach all seven continents (two to go!) I’ve played with, relied on and had catastrophic failures with several methods of translation, and while this probably won’t replace the Current go to version of the Universal Translator it’s certainly a step in the right direction, and I can think of a solid ten times this year alone it might have come in very handy. (A hundred times easy if it spoke a few more languages).

At $199 USD I won’t be running out to get one any time soon, but they have my attention.