The time of being hideously embarrassed by your lack of language skills while on holiday could be drawing to a close with the launch of the Translate One2One from Lingmo, a $179 (roughly £140 or AU$235) device that promises to whisper almost instant translations in your ear as you go about your business.
According to its Australian makers, it's powered by the machine learning technology available through the IBM Watson natural language processing platform, and can get answers back to you within 3-5 seconds. That's not instant, but it's a whole lot faster than leafing through a foreign dictionary.
What's more, it's fully independent; with 3G connectivity built-in, the headset and earpiece doesn't have to be connected to your phone via Bluetooth or WiFi to get the translation done. The device supports US English, UK English, Japanese, French, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, German and Portuguese at the moment.
Making yourself understood
Shipping for the headset is expected to start in July and phone apps are apparently on the way too so you can tap into the same smart translation technology on your mobile. As the system learns, it should get better at translation over time – current field tests say the device is accurate about 85% of the time.
The team behind the device says it's particularly good at recognizing context, so it knows when you want "cool" to mean something good rather than something cold. They're hoping the headset is going to be a hit with business travelers, though if you want to have a one-to-one conversation with someone, you need two headsets.
There are plenty of other devices exploring the same technology coming to market in the near future, including the Pilot earpieces from Waverly Labs and the remote-style, wearable translator called Ili from Japanese company Logbar. This summer you might at last be able to make yourself understood abroad.