Video: Instantly Bilingual

What’s the point of learning a second (or third, or fourth) language if you can just have your iPhone translate it on the fly? A new augmented reality app called Word Lens is capable of translating signs written in Spanish to English, or vice versa, reports Technology Review. Word Lens scans the input from your smartphone’s camera and, after decoding the Spanish, will repaint the picture in English.

According to the Technology Review, Word Lens was actually a programming tangent: It “pushes the boundaries of handheld computing, given that optical character recognition–a trick it performs in real time–was designed for the less challenging task of reading scans of paper documents.”

All of the bugs aren’t worked out yet, per Wired’s field test. “In our tests, it worked smoothly, although the words had a tendency to wiggle around a bit, switching between English and Spanish and flipping between alternate translations,” writes Charlie Sorrel at Wired. “You could get the gist of a sentence, but not read it clearly. Holding the camera very steady helped mitigate the ‘wiggling’ effect.” Ultimately, though, the magazine’s technofuturists were impressed:

Word Lens is a taste of science fiction, something like a visual version of the universal translator or the Babelfish. Only instead of being a convenient device to avoid movie subtitles, it’s a real, functioning tool.

Of course, the app doesn’t solve the problem of actually being able to speak to people from exotic locales. But until we’ve caught that Babelfish, Word Lens will inch us closer to speaking a digital Esperanto.

Sources: Technology Review(free registration required), Wired

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