Turning Raspberry Pi into a universal language translator

Turning Raspberry Pi into a universal language translator

Summary: A mod for the $35 Raspberry Pi enables the Linux board to translate English into more than 60 languages.

TOPICS: Hardware, Software

A universal language translator has long been the stuff of science fiction — from Star Trek to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

So it might be surprising that technology imagined by authors dreaming of the far future is beginning to be realised using a $35 computer and free web services.

Raspberry Pi owner Dave Conroy has tapped into these services using the low-cost Raspberry Pi Linux board and a headset to create a system that can translate English into more than 60 languages.

The translator system in action. Image: www.daveconroy.com

The system is built using various web services to transcribe the recorded English speech, generate the translation and read the result.

A demo by Conroy shows the system translating a five-second clip of him reading dates in English into French, German and Spanish.

Transcription is handled by calling Google's unofficial Speech to Text API to generate the text from the recorded file, the resulting text file is sent on to Microsoft's Translate service, currently free for public use, and the translated text sent to Google Translate's unofficial Text to Speech API to be read out.

A major limitation is that the Text to Speech API apparently will only read out sentences of 100 characters or less, although there are hacks to get around this.

The code needed to run the translator is relatively simple. Conroy wrote a Python script to wrangle data between the translation and text to speech services and a Linux shell script to glue it together with various Linux terminal commands.

A video of the system in action can be seen below.

 Further reading

Topics: Hardware, Software


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • Honestly, do you even have a clue about the things you write about?

    "So it might be surprising that technology imagined by authors dreaming of the far future is beginning to be realised using a $35 computer and free web services."

    WRONG. It is being realized by Google's multi-million dollar data center, and gigabytes of data. The so-called $35 computer adds nothing of value to the process except handle text input/output.

    Not sure if you are trying to pump up Raspberry Pi, but the article is absurd.
    • That's in the article

      The article makes it quite clear that it's Google and Microsoft's datacentres that are doing the work. The 'surprise' refers to the small amount of time and money that needs to be invested by the end user to make it happen.
      Nick Heath
    • You missed the point of the article.

      The Raspberry Pi is only $35. I have one.

      You can use an Apple cube USB power plug in adapter to power it, it connects to a conventional TV via a composite connector or you can connect to modern flat screen TV's using the HDMI connector. It can easily play Blu-Ray level graphics. It uses a flash card for a hard drive.

      All you need is a USB keyboard and mouse.

      The point is it is accessible to the poor of the world and with the services mentioned can provide a tremendous tool for a lot of people in the world that can't afford a regular computer.

      The Raspberry Pi is from a non-profit group.
  • attitude

    The old style IT attitude is showing....know it all, control it all....right ITTtechoo1
    • Old style?

      There is nothing wrong with leveraging webservices. That's what they are for.

      What I do have a problem with is dumping all the work onto a multi-billion dollar data center and then claiming that a 35 dollar computer is doing the work. This is the article summary that ZDNET displays below the headline:

      "A mod for the $35 Raspberry Pi enables the Linux board to translate English into more than 60 languages."

      Maybe I am old-school, but I have a problem with that.
      • The article is clear.

        It mentions the services. You can't access the services without a computer.
    • The guy probably never used Linux.

  • 10 cent button can translate into 60 languages!

    This is the next article we should all read.
    One 10-cent "ENTER" key on my keyboard can translate into 60 languages!!!
    It does not matter that there are other 100 keys on my keyboard nor that keyboard is connected to PC that costs couple grand or that PC is connected to internet and uses google or some other web service to do actual translation. No, that 10 cent ENTER key is doing everything, Miracle!!!
    • smart wannabe

      Yes, if you can bring your 10 cents "Enter" key with you to travel around and translate your English to 60 languages on the go, you have a miracle.

      The ideas around Raspberry Pi are not for common people like you nor for products that you can buy tomorrow. It's for experimentalist to try different approaches of new ideas on a minimal platform. You can do this easily on Android and on Windows, but doing this on a customizable little robot can be a fun application.