back to article Electric Babel Fish swims into crowdfunding

A company called Waverly Labs claims to have developed a real-time-in-ear translation unit. Just how the “Pilot” pulls off the trick hasn't been fully explained on the company's site or the saccharine video that purports to show the device in action. What we can say is that the material released so far depicts two wireless …

  1. Mark 85

    No details yet other than the website hinting that there's an app for a smartphone. Sort of like Siri or Cortana then apparently but it claims "offline". I shudder to think about the memory requirements for this. On the plus side if it works, you can have a conversation but the downside is, you have to give them the other earpiece. Eww....

    1. DropBear

      I don't see the problem (or much contribution on their part, to be honest): Google Translate already does text-to-text translation between a fair number of languages, and it has an option to download often-used languages for offline use; I have several downloaded on a half-decade old phone and I'm not even noticing it's there. Obviously, one only needs to add voice recognition and text-to-speech to complete the circuit - no idea whether something doing just that already exists or not, but neither technology is exactly stranger to smartphones nor has been for a long, long, long time now. So, while it might sound impressive, I'm certainly underwhelmed by the "achievement"...

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Given that STT, machine translation, and TTS are all very easy to do badly individually, let alone together, the chances are that this will be more of a red herring than a babel fish.

        1. Little Mouse

          Re: very easy to do badly

          Well, the telepathic matrix produced by the original was babel fish excreta - i.e. fish shit.

          That said - I do look forward to the not-too-distant future where gadgets like this will work as described, and not need to be tied to a smartphone.

      2. PatientOne

        Speech to text exists (we're using it) but it needs configuring, training (to understand the person speaking) and context tuning to get it even vaguely right. It's not perfect meaning it requires a human being to review and verify what was translated to text matches what was said.

        Translating between written languages isn't difficult if you have the entire text to translate as you have context but even then you can get some very humourous translations and you can't translate word by word between many languages due to the way they are constructed and the rules that are required, so you need a delay between speech and translation simply to assemble enough of what was said to make sense of it and produce a meaningful translation.

        Reading it back is the easy bit.

        Or, if you know someone who does speech translation, ask them how they do it and what the pitfalls are, and that's using a system that cheats constantly (the human brain).

        So, in this instance, I'm inclined to say this is another of those wonderful ideas where they're expecting more of technology than is possible. Unless they accept there will be a noticable delay between speaking and translation, and probably a longer delay than if they had someone else do the translation for them (with less accuracy, too).

    2. stu 4

      jibbigo has done this for years. all offline.

  2. Alister

    "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle"

    1. Francis Boyle

      That's easy

      It will surely be translated into the Chinese for "I'm impotent". (Now I'm wondering if that wasn't what Arthur was trying to say.)

  3. Mage Silver badge

    Seems misleading

    I saw this on newspaper sites.

    1) Google Translate and Skype etc are only good to translate to your own language, and then poor

    2) You need phrases etc for context. Word by word doesn't work, so latency.

    3) Bet anything it's just a wireless earbud, likely bluetooth.

    4) It MIGHT run on phone, this is unlikely, probably the phone just connects earpiece and microphone to a remote server.

    Nothing to see. This won't be in-ear translation. What ever it is won't be better than Skype, QQ or Google Translate and worse than the text interface to those as there is the addition error prone voice recognition.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Seems misleading

      When something seems to good to be true, it usually is.

      Yep, BT headset links to phone, phone links to ??? For all we know, they pipe it into Google translator.

  4. Uffish

    I am looking forward to seeing these used

    Instant games of Chinese Whispers.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I am looking forward to seeing these used

      My hovercraft is full of eels.

    2. Pedigree-Pete

      Chinese Whispers

      "send 3 and 4 pence, we're going to a dance" Apparently WW1. PP

  5. Paul Naylor

    Have to

    Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen it to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

    The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

    "But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."

    "Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

    "Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.

    Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo's kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his best-selling book Well That About Wraps It Up For God.

    1. Unep Eurobats

      Re: Have to

      That passage is comic genius and I know it by heart.

    2. Roger Varley

      Re: Have to

      Is it just me, but every time, I read anything from HHGTTG, I hear Peter Jones voice in my head?

  6. Electron Shepherd

    You say Babel Fish...

    Perhaps the Salmon of Doubt is more appropriate?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A product that listens, sends sound data out to a cloud processor before returning translated speech to a loudspeaker.

    Would that be a microphone?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Hmmm, I'm very dubious. Google translate already does a very good job with speech-to-speech translation using the translate app on a phone. The speech-to-text, text translation then text-to-speech all work well. My English parents and Italian in-laws can manage a reasonable conversation even through they share no language.

    I can't believe a small untested outfit will be able to exceed the performance of Google or Microsoft in this regard. Even if this company is planning to just re-use the Google or Microsoft tech to make this work I don't see the point with the in-the-ear solution. When holding a phone between speakers is pretty adequate. Maybe in the future when problems regarding power requirements and speed of the translation are resolved it would be good to have something unobtrusive in-the-ear way but probably by then we'll be hardlining stuff into our brains anyway


    S and others

  9. hi_robb


    Is it's inventor paranoid and do they have abrain the size of a planet?

    1. Robert Moore

      Re: Questions!

      > Is it's inventor paranoid and do they have a brain the size of a planet?

      Yes, and he also has a terrible pain in all the diodes down his left side.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Something fishy

    If I had developed this I would have a demo somewhere on my site, something longer than the short and unconvincing movie on the landing page.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'll call bogus as their registered address is

    Registrant Street: 417 ASSOCIATED RD #324

    Registrant Street: C/O WAVERLYLABS.COM

    Registrant City: BREA

    Registrant State/Province: CA

    Registrant Postal Code: 92821

    Which just happens to be a Mail Center! Fishy for a serious company.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to get in on these scams...

    1. Get a junk MBA and some fancy PR blurb

    2. Promise a brand new secret tech soon to be worth billions

    3. Put up a website with pseudo-scientific/outlandish bullshit

    4. Get some free interns with STEM degrees desperate for work, and prepared to lie to keep it

    5. Ask the VC science-illiterate community for millions of dollars

    6. Talk a load of shite promising a break thru soon

    7. Ask for even more money whilst delivering nothing

    8. PROFIT

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How to get in on these scams...

      (5) is more like "get some intermediaries to brag cash out of VCs" - promise them 15% of what they bring (which is 10% over market) and they'll promise whatever it takes to get their share of the loot, which also means you cannot be held responsible for their claims.

      (5a) would be "pay yourself a million dollar salary" á la uBeam.

      Gotta plan ahead ..

  13. casaloco


    So it's a pair of bluetooth headsets and a translation app?

  14. d3vy

    Original :" I can't see this working as advertised."

    ENG -> German : "Ich kann mich nicht um diese Funktion zu sehen wie in der Werbung."

    And back again : "I can not to see this function as advertised."

    And that's one simple sentence.. Yeah - you can just about figure out what it means, but that's with it written and reading it over once for context then the second time to understand it - if its shouted into your lughole by a robotic voice how likely are you to get it? (Just the robotic voice alone will make it hard enough).

    There is the second issue of course that you will be hearing two streams, One language in one ear and translated English in the other off set by a few seconds - I can see that getting really confusing.

  15. 42andSlarty

    Oh the fun of truth

    I can see the lighter side with me forgetting to switch it off and then listening to political speech or business bable, suddenly translated into clear English. The rationale for "right sizing" will be translated to "I need a bigger jet and a new island for vacations".

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh, this will get definitely funded, no doubt

    Can you imagine ANY agency passing up the chance to be handed conversations throughout the world on a golden platter? Whatever it takes, this will get funded one way or the other.

    (Yes, I'm paid to be paranoid. Sadly I've been proven right far too often this year :( ).

  17. inmypjs Silver badge

    On Indiegogo...

    the platform of choice for scammers and incompetents.

  18. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    And one day...

    We'll all have a blue flashing LED earbud in each ear. We'll all pause every Tuesday at 9am while the latest updates are downloaded, we'll all get our news through it. Everyone will laugh at the same time at the same joke of the day. Until the plan is complete then everyone will be upgraded. Or deleted!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And one day...

      I'm before coffee, so I need help remembering which SF movie that was again. I think that was a Dr Who episode, am I right?

      In any case, it was a good story :)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: And one day...

        Yes, the alternate universe where Roses dad is alive and successful and transport is airships. The big industrialist bloke has invented his own version of Cybermen.

  19. John F***ing Stepp

    I have been looking for a good word by word translator. It is all well and good to translate 'I think my pig is whistling' (german) to 'I am confused' (english) but when that happens you don't learn the language.

    1. leliel

      This is because for all but the most closely related languages (ie: french <-> italian) word by word translation simply doesn't work at all.

      Most languages are at least mildly context sensitive, and word order can vary dramatically between less related languages.

  20. mediabeing

    Thus began world wars 3, 4 and 5. ;)

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