Print 13 comment(s) - last by Ke Chong.. on Feb 17 at 9:59 PM

Software translates foreign text from camera phone images

Android was slowly adopted by most phone makers when it first launched. It took a while for the bugs to be worked out of the first handset that ran the android OS, but today Android is gaining traction in the smartphone market. There are more handsets being unveiled every day running Android making it one of the most popular mobile operating systems around.

One of the cool things about Android is that Google is always innovating and looking to add new features/functions to the OS. 
Yahoo Tech reports that Google was showing off new software at Mobile World Congress in Spain this week that translates foreign text when the user takes a picture with their Android device's camera.

At the MWC demo, a Google engineer took a picture of a German restaurant menu with an Android smartphone. The translation software takes the photo, uploads it to Google servers, and translates the text automatically. The translation is then sent back to the user.

In the demo, the image had an item with the German description "Fruhlingssalat mit Wildkrautern" which the Google software was able to accurately translate to "spring salad with wild herbs." The difference in this Google offering and similar apps already available is that the translation is done on the Google servers.

The reason for that is to allow more processing power to be applied to the translation than the mobile device can muster on its own. The result is supposed to be faster translations. That is assuming that the mobile network in the area is fast enough to send a photo quickly to Google's servers.

Google offered no indication of when the software would be offered for Android devices.

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By Motoman on 2/17/2010 11:43:48 AM , Rating: 2
...while this seems like a neat feature, I have to wonder about the burden it causes Google to provide...and then whether or not it can truly be "free."

Parsing through an image to pick words out of it and then run a translation on it can't be a cheap task to perform.

RE: Interesting...
By steven975 on 2/17/2010 12:08:09 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, but they also thought YouTube was worth what they paid, too.

That has even larger demands (trascoding everything uploaded, storage, massive bandwidth costs, copyright compiance) than something like this ever will. They've monetized it somewhat, but I doubt they'll ever make a profit on the service as a whole.

RE: Interesting...
By GaryJohnson on 2/17/2010 12:21:07 PM , Rating: 5
Google is all about data collection.

Google will create statistical information based on what is being translated and use that information for their non-evil purposes.

RE: Interesting...
By bhieb on 2/17/2010 12:53:13 PM , Rating: 2
OCR or optical character recognition has been around for quite some time in scanners. It would still be harder on a random image but I would guess it is a minor thing.

Keep in mind they used to scan catalogs into a beta application that was fully text searchable so they were already doing this. Plus the site already does translation. Not really a big leap to put these techs together, and probably not much cost involved. Getting it to scale to the processing power in a mobile phone would be tricky though.

RE: Interesting...
By tharik on 2/17/2010 1:09:11 PM , Rating: 2
From the article it says the Google servers are being used to process the translation and then just send back the results.

RE: Interesting...
By bhieb on 2/17/2010 2:26:41 PM , Rating: 2
Aww missed that thanks. So the additional cost involved should be very small indeed.

RE: Interesting...
By Smartless on 2/17/2010 2:40:19 PM , Rating: 2
Hehe I wonder if there'll be a button for "I'm feeling lucky" hehe.

In any case, this would be great but I wonder if it will work with kanji, sanskript, yada yada. Than I won't accidently order ox penis at a restaurant in China. My contract with AT&T is up and either I get an Iphone or wait for Google to make one for AT&T contract.

RE: Interesting...
By prenox on 2/17/2010 12:54:22 PM , Rating: 2
OCR wouldn't be the problem. We OCR whole books at a time relatively cheap with dual core processors here at work. I am sure Google has much more processing power at their disposal. The only bottleneck would be the mobile network uploading the images.

RE: Interesting...
By omnicronx on 2/17/2010 2:14:44 PM , Rating: 2
I really don't see the burden, the technology here probably is not the translation itself, Google already does that quite well. It is most likely the OCR techniques being used to convert the image to text, on a large server farm this should be no problem. Google is really just putting a few technologies together, nothing here is really that revolutionary.

RE: Interesting...
By foolsgambit11 on 2/17/2010 4:00:54 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, notice that they used a menu - so I'm guessing black text on a white background. The OCR wouldn't be much different than a scan of a page. It would be a bit more challenging (though not impossible, I suppose) to do this for, say, stylized text on packaging at the grocery store.

I'm torn
By tdawg on 2/17/2010 1:23:41 PM , Rating: 2
I'm upgrading my iphone in March (was originally supposed to be on 2/10 for the X10; thanks Sony Ericsson) and am absolutely torn between Android (most likely Nexus One) or the HD2 that's upgradeable to Windows Phone 7 (WP7). I love HTC's Sense UI in general, and the HD2 looks absolutely phenomenal, and I'm excited about the Zune HD integration into WP7, but I also love the openness of the Android platform.

These continuing additions from Google really make Android even more appetizing, but man it's a tough decision.

RE: I'm torn
By UncleRufus on 2/17/2010 4:45:23 PM , Rating: 2
HTC is releasing some pretty nice android phones from what I've seen of the Mobile World Congress coverage.

RE: I'm torn
By Ke Chong on 2/17/2010 9:59:15 PM , Rating: 2
I love HTC's Sense UI in general, and the HD2 looks absolutely phenomenal, and I'm excited about the Zune HD integration into WP7, but I also love the openness of the Android platform.

HTC Desire, same spec, trackball is replaced with a trackpad, Sense UI... only lacking the Zune Integration bit... ;)

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