Remember that scene in Lost In Translation where Bill Murray randomly orders food from a menu he’s at loss understanding?
DoCoMo is making this a thing of the past.
The Japanese telco giant has released an Android app that translates restaurants menus on the fly: 料理メニュー翻訳. Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese.
You just have to take a photo with the camera and the text gets translated in less than a fifth of a second.
This reminds me a bit of WordLens, the iPhone app that grabbed some headlines at the end of last year. It allows live translations of text through the Google Translate API (video). But maybe because that API is being deprecated, the app never went further than English to Spanish and reverse.
DoCoMo probably uses its own custom set of translation technologies, maybe based on the same roots than the simultaneous interpretation system that it displayed this spring at Wireless Japan 2011 —I mean, just look at this video, that was quite impressive.
The Android app can be downloaded for free, but only on 2.1+ systems. Its use will remain free of charge until mid-January, during which time the company will use consumers’ feedback to iterate it.
DoCoMo is already working on expanding the thesaurus besides restaurant menus.
[nohang foo="bar"]Update: For our foreign friends, DoCoMo notes that a subscriber account is needed —i.e. a DoCoMo SIM card inserted in the compatible phone. It might well just be a case of not offering support if you’re roaming from your national carrier. Starting January 2012 though, you might be locked out by not having the possibility to pay for the service (thanks to my fellow Pietro Zuco for the help understanding the small prints). Don’t hesitate to share your experiences in the comments below.