Sigmo brings Star Trek-style universal translator closer to reality
By Dave Parrack
August 14, 2013
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.
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 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.
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