Earbud translators will bring us closer: The Future IRL

Going for the Babel Fish of our Sci-Fi dreams.

The moment Google Pixel Buds were used earlier this month to demonstrate real time translation from Swedish to English, people started freaking out about potential use cases for this kind of technology. But the thing is, Google isn't the only company taking this on.

Doppler Labs offered me a chance to try the beta version of its translation software, used inside of its existing Here One earbuds. It plans to release the translation feature in a software update early next year. I jumped at the chance, and first exchanged pleasantries with a fluent Cantonese speaker, then let folks in San Francisco's Dolores Park use the buds to translate Spanish. Everyone that tried them in front of me loved them, but that doesn't mean they're perfect. Proper nouns are enormously difficult to translate with ease across languages, and that was apparent when we asked one person in Spanish whether she preferred House Stark or House Targaryen in Game of Thrones. The translation spit out mostly gobbledygook. I struggled similarly when trying to understand where my conversational partner lived (Near Ocean Beach in San Francisco, from what I could tell) but it took about three tries to get there.

Doppler Labs plans to up their earbud ante even future in Q3 of 2018, when an updated earbud will give even longer battery life and power for translation, enabling some compute either on the earbuds or on a paired phone, without having to touch the cloud for translation, a pretty common occurrence in most products like it now.

The wise gadget lover might wait for that updated bud, or for that matter, v.2 of Google Pixel Buds or other competitors. But if you imagine yourself an intrepid explorer of the world, translation earbuds are probably already on your wish list. You could wait for generation two or later products from Google, Doppler, Bragi and more, but let's be real: This technology is simply too life-changing to make yourself wait.