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Translation on the Fly

When I arrived in Switzerland nine years ago I didn’t speak a word of German (much less Swiss German!), so for a while I faced a very real and practical problem. I would encounter signs on the street, and have absolutely no idea what they meant. Does this sign mean I can pass, or I cannot? “Watch your step” or “Watch for the vicious dog”? During that period, I often wished for a gadget that I could point at the sign and would give me an instant translation.

Well, I only had to wait 9 years for it. Behold this demo video for Word Lens:

I immediately downloaded and played with it for a bit. I don’t need Spanish-English translation, which is the only one available for now (and which cost USD50¬†USD5 for each direction), so I played with the built-in “reverse words” and “erase words” demos. Recognition is pretty good as long as the type is clearly printed and in not-too-weird fonts. It should work fine for many different cases. How good translation is becomes another matter, but mediocre translation is better than nothing when you are lost in a foreign country!

It’s amazing how technology changes and advances. I can have my dream of point-and-click translation on my iPhone now.