Highlights from the 2015 Geneva Motor Show

Sigmo brings Star Trek-style universal translator closer to reality


August 14, 2013

A still from the demonstration video, which shows how Sigmo could work in the real world

A still from the demonstration video, which shows how Sigmo could work in the real world

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The internet and smartphones have made it much easier to converse with people who speak different languages to you, with services using these technologies providing both instant text-to-speech and speech-to-speech translation options. Sigmo, a simple Bluetooth device which uses existing online translation services to translate from one language to the other and back again in real-time, is designed to be the middleman in the equation, thus removing the need to constantly shove your smartphone in people's faces.

The Sigmo prototype is a small square box that features a microphone, speaker, an on/off button, and first and second language buttons. Rather than performing any translating wizardry of its own, Sigmo pairs with a smartphone (iOS and Android devices will supported out of the box, with plans for more to be added later) via Bluetooth and relies on existing online translation services such as Google Translate to do the bulk of the work.

It cannot be claimed that Sigmo is quite up to the standard of the Universal Translator from Star Trek, but it's a step in that direction. Through the use of an accompanying app provided to buyers for free, users would be able to translate between 25 supported languages. These include English, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese, but the Sigmo team says this number will automatically increase as online translation services roll out updates.

A graphic showing how Sigmo works in three simple steps

Sigmo is designed to work thusly: users set their native language and the language they want their speech to be translated into on the dedicated Sigmo app on their smartphone. Then it's a matter of pressing the first language button, speaking, and waiting for the translation to be spoken through the device's speaker. The other person's reply can then be translated in the same way by pressing the second language button. As all translations are sourced from the cloud your smartphone needs a data connection for Sigmo to operate, but the team behind the device say they are working on introducing an offline mode with a more limited vocabulary.

Google has already added speech-to-speech translating to its Translate app, and is known to be working on integrating such capabilities into smartphone hardware. While Google works on perfecting these features, Sigmo may provide a simple and affordable way of conversing with friends and strangers who speak different languages. Just don't expect perfect translations every time, especially with the differences in syntax between languages. At the very least Sigmo should prevent you having to hold your smartphone in your hand every time you want to have a conversation with someone in a different language.

Sigmo can be attached to your collar using the clip provided

Sigmo is currently seeking funding on Indiegogo, where the team behind it is hoping to raise $15,000 to finalize the app, finish testing the hardware prototype, and manufacture the first production run. One set of Sigmo products (comprising a Sigmo translator, stainless steel clip, neck strap, and wrist bracelet) is available for US$50, with the future retail price destined to be $65.

The video below purports to show how Sigmo works in action, but it isn't clear how close the final product will be to the working prototype featured in the clip. Unfortunately that metallic voice is staying, despite the fact that Microsoft has developed software that means you could use your own voice instead.

Source: Sigmo, Indiegogo

About the Author
Dave Parrack Dave is a technology journalist with a ravenous appetite for gadgets, gizmos, and gubbins. He's based in the U.K., and from his center of operations writes about all facets of modern and future technology. He has learned more in his five years writing for the Web than he did in 11 years at school, and with none of the boring subjects thrown in to the mix.   All articles by Dave Parrack

A bit awkward. Would be better in earpiece form factor.

14th August, 2013 @ 09:06 am PDT

I like it. I could definatelly see myself using this while traveling, yes seems abit awkward but, i think in most cases both parties will be somewhat patient, it didnt take to long to translate.

Having something like this, and i know there are other devices but, it can really open up being able to go and immerse yourself in a foreign countries culture without speaking any of the language. However you'd also need to have a strong internet connection, which in some areas could be bad, causing you to have to wait for half a minute or more waiting for a response(im assuming).

Will definately get one of these if something else better hasn't come out by the time i need it.

14th August, 2013 @ 11:33 am PDT

Not sure why you'd need this. iTranslate does this on my iPhone - and I believe it was a free app.

Fritz Menzel
15th August, 2013 @ 10:33 am PDT

This will prove an EXTREMELY short-lived hardware product. This translator function will be relatively easily implemented on upcoming smart watches in software. I'd rather a smart watch instead.

15th August, 2013 @ 12:13 pm PDT

Ummm, my Galaxy S3 already does this with the Google Translate app.

15th August, 2013 @ 04:26 pm PDT

Ha ha ha demo.

Considering the accuracy of Google translate, combined with the accuracy of the best available speech to text converter, and then add the Dalek voice... this product is going to TANK.

Chris Bedford
23rd August, 2013 @ 12:10 am PDT

So, why the secret agenda of this company? I see the sale for it is less than 100 bucks but, they are NOT operating like a normal business. They have ZERO social media outlets. They have ZERO address or phone numbers, etc on them.

What is the deal? What is their story?

I still think there is nothing like this yet. It seems like the push in the right direction.

If you have ever traveled to a foreign country, it would be great just to talk to people as normal without a smart phone or ipad and not the use of a paid translator. For the people who say they have this on their app, this is not the same thing. The app is slow, cumbersome and not good in a real life scenario. According to the videos, this is real life. Will it work? This remains to be seen. Has ANYONE actually used the product or received it? Why is it that they are not marketing this to the masses or at least selling the technology to a 3rd party that can mass produce it? This is the question.

John Kaniuk
12th January, 2014 @ 06:38 am PST

Exactly my thought John!

Why they are not marketing it all. It is working fine and can be used with some patience.

Ajay Dadheech
12th February, 2014 @ 11:39 am PST
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