While every interstellar traveler knows that the most massively useful item you can have with you is a towel, placing a Babel Fish in your ear, where it can translate foreign languages for you, is a real close second on the must-have list of any spaceship-hopping hitchhiker on the go. It’s so “mind-boggingly useful” that those of us that only traverse within the confines of our own planet would find our journeys to new places a lot less intimidating if we could easily transcend language barriers.
Well now we just might be able to, thanks to The Pilot from Waverly Labs, “the world’s first smart earpiece which translates between users speaking different languages.” In the video above you can see how an English speaker and a French speaker are able to carry a conversation in their native languages.
The small device with the potentially huge implications for worldwide communication, that we first came across at Laughingsquid, looks less noticeable than a normal Bluetooth earpiece, and uses “latest technologies in speech recognition, machine translation, and wearable tech.” The device works offline, though you will have to download the languages you want through the Pilot’s accompanying app. The first available languages will be the Latin/Romance ones (English, Spanish, French, Italian, etc.), followed by others like East Asian, Hindi, Semitic, Arabic, Slavic, and African. The makers say they’ll have some other languages eventually at a “premium fee.”
This is a wonderful example of science-fiction being the inspiration for amazing real technology. In the late, great Douglas Adams‘ classic five-part trilogy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Earth’s own Arthur Dent is able to perfectly understand and communicate with the different alien races he encounters because he has a Babel Fish in his ear. If you are not familiar with the books (what is wrong with you go read them immediately), here is the first part of the guide’s entry for the Babel Fish, a device so incredibly perfect “that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.”
“The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier, but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.”
The section in bold might as well be describing the Pilot.
As an Adams’ disciple, I have been obsessed with the idea of an immediate translation device since I first read about a Babel Fish, so I’d happily pay a lot for one of these (I’d give anything to be able to talk to a Scottish person), but incredibly they say they will retail for only between $249-$299. Even better, there will be an early bird discount, where some will be available for as little as between $129 to $179. You can sign up for notification here for the May 25 pre-order campaign.
And your order gets you two earpieces, so you can, you know, actually talk to someone that doesn’t speak the same language as you, though if you don’t have the other device on you the app can stand in The Pilot’s place, if not quite stand in your ear. They plan on making future models capable of hearing and translating everything around you, not just the other person you are speaking to, so one day you might truly be able to experience what it’s like to use Arthur Dent’s Babel Fish, just without having your brainwave energy fed on.
While the app should be good to go this summer, the device itself needs a little more time, so they expect it to be shipped in late fall/early winter, with some orders not being fulfilled until next spring. (Early adopters will also get all of those “premium fee” languages as part of their package.)
Just think of the implications of this potentially world-changing device. One day–soon–you might be able to travel anywhere on the planet and have a perfectly normal conversation with someone, regardless of whether or not you actually understand one word coming out of his or her mouth. You won’t need any translation dictionaries, or a local guide. You won’t have to worry about what you just ordered off the menu, or if you are about to accidentally do something insulting to the local culture. You’ll be able to hitchhike anywhere.
Just don’t forget your towel.
Will you order one? Where would be the first place you’d go? Translate your thoughts into actual comments below.
Speaking of senses, how does Daredevil see through hearing?
Images: Waverly Labs