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High-Tech 'Pilot' Earpieces Translate Languages in Real Time

The idea will be familiar to anyone who's read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: the Babel Fish. Waverley Labs claims that its "Pilot" is a functional universal interpreter. The original impulse for the invention: love.

30 May. 2016 Andreas Floemer
The "Babel Fish"-style Pilot is an earpiece with an app. (Photo: Waverly Labs)

The comparison with the Babel Fish from Douglas Adams's cult novel "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is too good to ignore. In the science fiction classic, residents of the galaxy need only stick a small, unbelievably slimy fish behind their ear and boom: all language barriers disappear - the Babel Fish translates any languages in the universe, in real time. Waverly Labs opted against the fish shape in favor of a special earpiece it calls the Pilot. Founder Andrew Ochoa explains that he struck upon the idea for the Pilot when he met a French woman - and struggled to communicate quite as smoothly as he hoped.

Two people using his novel earpieces should now be in the position to hold a conversation across language barriers, even in languages they don't speak. But the Pilot holds plenty of promise for more than just lovers. Travelers and business people could benefit greatly from the Pilot as well.

The earplugs themselves are just one part of a real-time translation system - an app must be installed on the user's smartphone, turning it into the device's computational and data center. The translation tool supports the latest speech recognition technologies and machine translation functions, its makers claim. Both conversation partners must have one of the earpieces in their ear. Pilot is designed to work offline, without a data connection, as well.

A small team is working on the Waverly Labs Pilot. (Photo: Waverly Labs)

At launch, the earpieces (sold in pairs) will support English, Spanish, French and Italian, and Arabic, Slavic languages and others are slated to be offered soon as well. The additional languages will be available for purchase and download.

The Pilot "Babel Fish" earpieces will be available in three colors. (Photo: Waverly Labs)

The real-time interpreting technology will initially be offered via crowdfunding – two earpieces and app in a limited edition for 129 US dollars, thereafter for 149 or in a late 'Early Bird' option for 179 US dollars. Project patrons who make their contribution on the 24th or 25th of May will receive the extra languages at no cost. The final sales price will total 299 US dollars.

While the idea behind the project is excellent - and may well make life easier for many travelers - it remains to be seen whether the 'hearable' will function as claimed.

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