IrisPen 1.1a takes a stab at translating but disappoints -
- By Jason z_rne
- Sep 15, 1997
Imagine waving a wand to translate documents from a foreign language and then paste the
text into your favorite application.
Imagine if the wand could teach you to speak and read that language.
Sound too good to be true? You're right, it is. But the idea is great.
Image Recognition Integrated Systems' IrisPen Translator scans and translates
foreign-language documents that you can use in applications. However, serious problems
occur from errors in the optical character recognition and language translation steps.
The IrisPen Translator comes in three parts: an optical scanning pen, an OCR engine and
translation software. The pen scanner works well, but the other two components struggle at
The pen scanner resembles a large utility knife. At one end are the optical scanner and
a wheel that activates the device when it is set on a document. Guide marks help align the
scanner with the line of text to capture.
The scanner's cable draws power from the PC keyboard port. There's a pass-through for
the keyboard. The scanner interfaces through the PC parallel port, and that adapter also
has a pass-through to connect a printer.
You use the scanner like a highlighter, line by line. When you're finished selecting
text, click a small button on the pen near where your index finger rests. The software
then goes to work.
If you've set the options correctly and your computer has a sound card, it will begin
pronouncing the text that you have just scanned. The documentation indicated that the
translated text would be pronounced, rather than the original. But as tested, the product
merely pronounced the original text. How useful this is for learning, I'm not sure.
The tested software could translate from English to French and vice versa; other
language pairs are available. Pronunciation of the English text was fine, but the French
was extremely difficult to understand. Perhaps this is because English speech is more
forgiving of a stilted delivery than French, but in any case the French pronunciation was
The same could be said for the on-screen translated text. At best, this could serve as
a shortcut for more professional translation. Because of the OCR inaccuracies and the
translation quirks, the IrisPen's text requires more editing than typical OCR documents.
The scanning unit has a brightness setting, but it did not prove very useful in
fine-tuning. Scanning resolution does not appear in the documentation. I estimate it's
around 150 dots per inch for black text. Faxes did not scan well, nor did
The software could translate text copied into Microsoft Windows' Clipboard, regardless
of source. But it failed to work unless I maximized the IrisPen software's window, then
switched back to the application I was working in.
Only then did it ask whether I wished to translate the Clipboard after I'd selected and
copied the text. When I didn't do this, it copied the text to the Clipboard, but the
translation software wasn't activated.
The company provided two test sheets, one in English and the other in French. I also
used technical documents for testing. Seldom did the computer translations match those on
the test sheets.
To eliminate scan quality as the cause, I translated text from the
Clipboard--everything from simple conversational sentences to text from technical
documents. "How are you?" translated into French as "How is what you
The word "download" translated correctly into French but could not be
translated back into English. Strangest of all, a sentence from the vendor's test sheet,
"The IrisPen translates the recognized text for you," came back with
"swept" instead of "recognized," although the software used the proper
French verb form.
One of the most frustrating things was a lack of choice between possible meanings of a
word. The only complete sentence for which I got a perfect translation match was "The
quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."
IrisPen Translator is supposed to help you learn foreign languages. Its OCR and
translation engines may inspire you instead to use language unsuitable for polite company.
In any case, if you can't choose between hearing the computer pronounce the original text
or the translation, the usefulness of this feature is limited.
IrisPen Translator would be a much richer tool if it could translate Hypertext Markup
Language pages from the Internet. Considering the wealth of foreign language material
available on the World Wide Web, this is a natural place for anyone to pick up language
proficiency. Grammar and spell-checking would improve accuracy of the translations, too.
This is Version 1.1a, so let's hope the product will mature and fulfill its promise.