thoughts in my own, personal opinion
eMail: ddanto@IMCCA.org Follow Industry News: @NJDavidD
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Gets A Little Smaller…Again
Unlike what I suppose is the
experience of most of you, international travel has always made me feel uncomfortable. I think
part of that comes from not wanting to do anything out of my comfort zone. For some
people ‘different’ is exciting…for me different is uncomfortable. (At the rental car lot my wife always wants
to select a new car to try, and I always want to select a car I’ve driven
before so I know where all the controls are.)
remember my first trip to the UK – many, many, many years ago. As soon as I landed and walked into Heathrow
I felt like a fish out of water. The signs
looked different, the area was unfamiliar, and the vibe was ‘not comfortable.’ Over years of traveling there my experience changed
– not just because I’d done it before, but also because of technology. A lot of my changed perception was because of
the improvement in my communications devices.
On one of those subsequent trips, when the 777 touched-down and I began
getting my emails again on a Blackberry, suddenly I didn’t feel like I was as
disconnected from my life as before. The
world had gotten a lot smaller. Then, in
subsequent years, when I carried a smartphone with GPS maps and international
texting, the UK seemed like just another neighboring city in the US. While the scenery, customs and currency were
new, the experience of it wasn’t all that different to traveling domestically.
no question that technology added comfort to my international travel to English
speaking countries. Regrettably, it
really hadn’t done anything for me in non-English speaking countries. (I knew full well after eight years of French
language classes that I just didn’t get my dad’s genes for understanding languages
other than English – that became painfully obvious many times.) My email and apps did little to help improve
the sense of discomfort and distance when I couldn’t communicate in the native
language. Now, all of that is about to
recently concluded CES 2018 the concept of universal translators finally became
reality. Instead of non-functional
prototypes and pie-in-the-sky promises, I actually experienced working models.
interesting product – shown in a working prototype – was a set of earbuds that
two people can wear to have their conversation simultaneously translated.
a fascinating concept (and a missed opportunity to call the earbuds Bablefish from
the Hitchhiker’s Guide) but the applications were limited. One can’t easily get into a taxi and ask the
driver to put on an earbud so you can speak with him. It also required a smartphone to work. This idea is really only ideal for two-person
there was another, more practical product shown at CES. Meet Travis the Translator.
is a handheld device that can translate 80 languages in either direction. It aggregates the translation capabilities of
a number of on-line algorithms through the special sauce in its programming. One simply has to select the languages on
either side, press the button to begin talking into it, and it repeats what you
said in the other language. Below is a
demonstration I recorded at CES. Click
the picture to go to YouTube and play the video.
floored that this wasn’t a prototype or concept, but rather a real, working
device. And a real, shipping device. During CES
I ordered one of these and have already received it, and it actually works. (The cynic in me was unconvinced up until
testing the production model myself.)
downside to this device is that it requires an internet connection to
work. (According to the Travis team the
device can translate 3 languages while off-line, and not so well.) The unit can obtain an internet connection by
inserting a SIM card from the carrier of your choice, or by connecting it to WiFI (or by tethering it to the WiFi hotspot on your
smartphone. They hinted that it will
eventually work via a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone, but I think that’s
not realistic at this time – unless they make a companion app.) That is a significant handicap for this
device, as the ideal application is when one is traveling to areas outside of
one’s own smartphone data plan. I want
to send it with my wife on her trip to South America next week, but the only realistic
option I have for her at this point is turning her iPhone’s hotspot on and
tethering the device to that. Lord knows what AT&T will charge for that
data usage. Frequent international
travelers should obviously get the unit its own international data SIM.
upside is phenomenal. One can now walk
into any store and up to any person with a pre-recorded question, press the
unit to play it, and set it to translate the response. It takes a bit of nimble finger pressing to
do that, but one can get good at it pretty easily. Longer form conversations are more difficult
of course, as the unit can ingest and translate bursts of words that top-out at
about two sentences long. Still, for the
international business traveler that can only speak their native language, this
device provides a crutch that increases one’s comfort zone immensely. With an approximate $200 US price-tag, it’s
well worth the investment.
I’m sure this technology will be incorporated into other apps, videoconferencing
systems, contact center systems, kiosks, ATMs, you name it as the sky is
literally the limit. It will also eventually enable small
businesses everywhere to expand their abilities to do business globally. For now though, I think of it like that first
Blackberry I had when landing at Heathrow suddenly didn’t seem like as big a
deal as it had before. The world has
again just gotten a little bit smaller.
This article was written by David Danto and
contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under
prevailing fair use statutes.