So you're in Paris with the family, and you speak only a scrap of French. You sit down at a fine restaurant, and rather than embarrass yourself by asking the waiter to explain the phrase boeuf aux petits légumes, you snap a picture of the menu with your Android-equipped mobile phone. Seconds later, Google Goggles spits back out a direct translation of the text, which turns out to mean "beef with little vegetables."
That's the idea, anyway, behind a new translation feature for Google Goggles, a popular – and relatively new – image recognition app for Android. (Google Goggles. Goggle Googles. Google Google Goggles. Googles. OK, sorry. We got it out of our system.) According to Google, Goggles can now recognize and translate blocks of text in a range of languages, from French to Italian, German, and Spanish.
The translation service comes packaged with Google Goggles v1.1, which is available on devices running Android 1.6 and higher. (Sorry, iPhone users. You'll have to wait for Apple to trot out something similar.) In a blog post today, Google software engineers Alessandro Bissacco and Avi Flamholz said that Google Goggles will eventually be expanded to include translations from non-Latin languages such as Arabic.
"In addition to translation, Goggles v1.1 features improved barcode recognition, a larger corpus of artwork, recognition of many more products and logos, an improved user interface, and the ability to initiate visual searches using images in your phone’s photo gallery," Bissacco and Flamholz wrote.
We haven't had a chance to test out the new edition of Google Goggles, so we will hold off on commenting on the application's effectiveness.
However, as Bissacco and Flamholz note, "Computer vision is a hard problem." It'll probably take some time for Google to make Goggles a regularly reliable service. In the meantime, the text translation is a great addition to the Android line-up of apps – we wouldn't be surprised, in a year, to see scores of Americans bent over the table at Parisian cafes, snapping photos of their menus.