UT-103 talks in four tongues

UT-103 talks in four tongues

The Ectaco UT-103 can translate words and phrases in four languages, though it can be set to work in only one direction'such as English to Spanish'at a time.

Speech recognition has reached the point where a universal translator is feasible

Speech recognition technology has stagnated for several years. Faster processors shorten the time needed for voice training but, beyond simple voice navigation or word processing, vendors have made few notable advances.

That is, until the Universal Translator-103 arrived. The device from Ectaco Inc. of Long Island City, N.Y., recognizes and translates common phrases in four languages, English, French, German and Spanish. Krill Galetski, Ectaco's communications manager, has said that all European languages soon will be available; work on several Asian languages is under way.

The 2-inch-wide, 4-inch-high device works much like a digital microrecorder. First, you set the translation you want'say, English into Spanish. Then you push a button and speak an English phrase. The UT-103 will alert you if it cannot understand what you are saying.

In my brief testing, the device could understand simple phrases such as, 'The store is to the right.'

Once recognition s complete, the UT-103 translates and checks with a context engine to find any odd quirks of meaning. Then it speaks the phrase in the target language using a digitized voice that sounds fairly natural, with just a hint of robotic flatness. Simple phrases take about four seconds or less to translate.

The UT-103 has a 32-bit, 75-MHz CPU, 16M of RAM and 64M of ROM. Its two standard AA batteries are supposed to last up to 36 hours.

Put it in your Palm

Users with Pocket PCs soon can buy the software that drives the translation engine, Galetski said. A version for the Palm OS will follow.

The UT-103 I tried worked only one way, so a two-way conversation with one device would be impossible. Two-way models that will enable natural conversation are in development, but the device does not have enough memory to accommodate a large vocabulary in four languages.

It's programmed for about 3,000 phrases common to basic conversation'about transportation, the post office, banking, driving, hotels, restaurants, health and sports. Theoretically, the device could be programmed for any specific tasks or fields.

If the UT-103 works well, it could be a boon for government workers who deal with a multilingual public. The Postal Service would be a good test site because postal phrases are already built in.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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