Translation Nation: How Speech Recognition Technology is Helping Us Understand Each Other

By Akudo McGee 6 Min Read

If you’re well traveled, you’ve been there- struggling to understand. Sometimes it takes the form of a nervous tourist badly mispronouncing phrases from a guidebook or haplessly repeating the language they speak in hopes that someone around can assist them in their mother tongue.

As the world becomes more interconnected, companies are rushing to accommodate the multilingual environments many of us find ourselves in. Shenzhen Timkettle Technology, otherwise known just as Timkettle is a speech recognition technology startup based out of Shenzhen and Pasadena, CA. They are looking to change the way we communicate with translation devices.

Instead of typing phrases into a translator app or looking through a book of phrases to communicate with others, Timkettle offers a wireless, in-ear translation device called the WT2. Both parties wear earpieces and the conversation between them is translated almost in real time. When the earpieces are not being used they can be stowed away in a charging case.

Wells Tu, TimeKettle’s founder stressed that he wanted to create a simple translation device that stood out from others by allowing users to speak naturally with each other, hand gestures and body language included.

Our system has successfully integrated wireless communications technology, voice translation technology, wearable technology and acoustic technology. Most of these technologies have never before been integrated into an earphone, but the WT2 translator achieved this in order to deliver an unprecedented interactive experience to users.

Upon approaching someone who doesn’t speak their native tongue, users can take out their earpieces, which automatically sync up with their device. The app works on iOS 8.0 (iPhone 5 or above) and Android 4.3 or above. Unlike many similar in-ear translation options, there is virtually no lag time and users do not have to engage with a complicated interface.

What are the features? Currently, WT2 can be used in 5 languages: English, Chinese, French, Japanese and German. It is hands-free, connects with your device using only one app and can translate sentences in 1-3 seconds. Only one user is required to purchase the device; it comes in a pack of 2, one piece can be worn by each user (they call this a "1 +2" translation service).

The device has 3 modes. The first mode is the Ask Mode which only requires one earpiece and can be used for simple conversation like asking for directions. The second mode is the Auto Mode which is for face-to-face communication and is 100% hands-free. The last mode is the *Manual Mode * which is for more complex conversations. These modes were developed after research Timkettle conducted about the common situations travelers experience.

Auto Mode is best used for quieter environments where the app can pick up on one voice at a time. Manual Mode can be used in noisy environments, however very noisy environments may cause WT2 to be less accurate. Ask Mode works for basic queries; the user can speak their questions and the other party will hear or read it in their native language.

Though Timkettle is still in the funding stages (using Kickstarter as their primary fundraising platform), the device can be pre-ordered right now for $179 (shipping is free). On their Kickstarter page, Timkettle expresses the desire to ensure that users can communicate naturally, conveniently and that the frustrations of traveling and language barriers can be resolved.

Language is beautiful, fascinating and occasionally frustrating – especially if the conversation is between speakers of two different languages! When you’re traveling abroad, there’s nothing worse than being stuck in an unknown place without a means to effectively communicate.

Their goal is not only to make translation and communication easier but also to make it easier for people to express their true selves, even when bound by language constraints. After the initial release of their product, Timkettle plans to expand to other languages like Portuguese, Arabic and Thai. These additional languages will not require the user to change apps or download new ones, rather they will be added during app updates. Their Kickstarter page also allows donators to suggest the languages they’d like Timkettle to feature.

Their plans are to make the first 6 languages free and charge additional fees for more languages. Mass production is set to begin in January, with orders for Kickstarter donors being fulfilled in February. It will be exciting to see how they develop in the future and how issues like background noise and heavy accents are handled.

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