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Word Lens App is Like a Magical Visual Babel Fish

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 20 comments

It's like magic.

Computers have enabled some pretty amazing things. Not too long ago, translating something from one language took the work of someone who was bilingual. Today, we can simply just copy and paste the text into a free online translation tool and you get a reasonably understandable version of the text in another language.

Now with smartphones with cameras, we have a new type of magic. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That's what some will think about a new iPhone app called Word Lens, which uses the camera to translate printed word from one language to another.

The current release only has support for Spanish to English and English to Spanish, each language pack costing $5 each. Many more languages are needed before this can become a true universal sort of magic, but it's definitely a very impressive peek into the visual Babel Fish.

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  • 3 Hide
    mpioca , December 19, 2010 4:58 PM
    Clarke is a god!
  • 2 Hide
    chickenhoagie , December 19, 2010 5:16 PM
    That is an awesome app..I could definitely find this worthy going on any vacation
  • 2 Hide
    mlopinto2k1 , December 19, 2010 5:33 PM
    That is really, really awesome.
  • -2 Hide
    fayzaan , December 19, 2010 5:46 PM
    wow that is pretty freaking cool! I think the way it works is by tracing the text in the picture and matching it with the different letters and then just using the same kind of translation technology as babel fish (for example) and converting it and placing it on the sign in place of what was there. Pretty awesome :) 
  • -1 Hide
    lp231 , December 19, 2010 6:47 PM
    I've remember Intel did some demo like this during their CES keynote.
    Forgot which year it was.
  • 0 Hide
    Travis Beane , December 19, 2010 7:02 PM
    We have speech recognition, we have online translations, and we have text to speach programs. Why has no one mixed all of them together? I've wanted this for a long time. With powerful smartphones and decent 3G/4G networks, this has all been made possible, so why haven't we done it?
  • 1 Hide
    christop , December 19, 2010 8:41 PM
    Good idea..
  • 1 Hide
    mayne92 , December 20, 2010 4:27 AM
    Travis BeaneWe have speech recognition, we have online translations, and we have text to speach programs. Why has no one mixed all of them together? I've wanted this for a long time. With powerful smartphones and decent 3G/4G networks, this has all been made possible, so why haven't we done it?

    Because you didn't snap your fingers???
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 20, 2010 7:03 AM
    "We have speech recognition..."

    We definitely don't have universal speech recognition yet. It works well in limited contexts, like customer support phone services, and pretty badly in general.

    That being said, it's getting better, and it's only a matter of time.
  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , December 20, 2010 8:40 AM
    I wonder if that'll be available on my windows phone at some point? currently pretty much nothing is
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 20, 2010 8:47 AM
    MMM nice but the translation is not to acurate.
  • 2 Hide
    fyend , December 20, 2010 12:49 PM
    So its like Google Goggles but not free and quite a bit later to market?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 20, 2010 3:01 PM
    Text to speech and reverse works reasonable well but machine translation is only acceptable when working with isolated words, like in the sign example shown in the article, or when the individuals communicating in two languages are writing about a conceptual domain that is limited and which both are very familiar (e.g. two geologists translating information on petroleum bearing formations). Even then the sender must be careful to use syntax that he/she has learned can be translated reasonable well by the software they are using. The syntax filtering process can take place unintentionally--without the user's conscious effort--if that person has used the software a lot. If those same geologists tried to translate the Koran from Arabic to English and the Bible from English to Arabic by machine, they would end up with mostly unintelligible text.
  • 1 Hide
    Rab1d-BDGR , December 20, 2010 3:08 PM
    I cam't wait to see what the translations actually come out like:

    "Nolonger 6xAA Batteries animal chaser, Please do not try to break wire gauze, throw no donut at door and drop no dog's feces on sidewalk!"
  • 0 Hide
    rpgplayer , December 20, 2010 6:02 PM
    mayne92Because you didn't snap your fingers???


    aww snap!
  • 0 Hide
    ntrceptr , December 20, 2010 6:53 PM
    Question: why do the screenshots in the above show the scene from 2 different angles. Were the examples above faked or does the app also change the point of view. On the tow away pics the translated shot lets me read the building that was previously covered by the sign. The Sausage sign appears to be from a higher viewpoint in the translated pic as well.

    Just wondering.
  • 0 Hide
    jaysbob , December 20, 2010 7:10 PM
    I'd still rather have the little fish I could put in my ear.
  • 0 Hide
    hellwig , December 20, 2010 7:28 PM
    ntrceptrQuestion: why do the screenshots in the above show the scene from 2 different angles. Were the examples above faked or does the app also change the point of view. On the tow away pics the translated shot lets me read the building that was previously covered by the sign. The Sausage sign appears to be from a higher viewpoint in the translated pic as well.Just wondering.


    Did you ever see Enemy of the State with Will Smith and Gene Hackman? You can use computers to perform all sorts of magic, like rotate the image from a single camera multiple degrees around an arbitrary access to see behind or around an object.

    That, or these images are faked and that was a crappy movie... yeah, that sounds better.
  • 0 Hide
    Trialsking , December 20, 2010 7:34 PM
    ntrceptrQuestion: why do the screenshots in the above show the scene from 2 different angles. Were the examples above faked or does the app also change the point of view. On the tow away pics the translated shot lets me read the building that was previously covered by the sign. The Sausage sign appears to be from a higher viewpoint in the translated pic as well.Just wondering.


    The app doesn't photoshop. It just translates from pictures, and probably just gives you a simple text answer. If it did the real photoshopping it would be pretty cool.
  • 0 Hide
    joebob2000 , December 20, 2010 7:38 PM
    The image you look at with Word Lens IS faked... You really should check out the video to see how this works. The program tries to, in REALTIME, scrape off the english text (or whatever is on the sign), leave the background color behind, and plant in the translated text instead. The screenshots show slightly different POV from frame to frame because, duh, the phone wasn't ever showing both languages at the exact same moment and wasn't being held perfectly still. If the POV were 100% identical, you would actually have more cause for concern.

    The sausage and lemonade sign does look weird though, the keystone effect detection/matching obviously is imperfect.
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