Tech giant Google today announced an update to its Google Translate app that expands its instant visual translation capabilities by 20 more languages, for a total of 27. The camera mode of the app now supports 37 languages.
The Google Translate app was already known as a handy little device that allows users to instantly translate already printed text in seven languages by clicking on an in-app camera and pointing it at the text they need to translate.
The app was developed to make it more accessible in emerging markets or areas without strong connections. Even without an Internet connection or cell phone data, the app could translate everything from a street sign to an instruction manual in seconds, in any of seven languages -- until now.
This Is CNN
The 20 new languages that can be translated to and from English include Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian. Those languages were added to French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Users can also do one-way translations from English to Hindi and Thai.
How do they get so many languages to run on devices with no data connections? The trick is something called convolutional neural networks (CNNs), which are often used in image and video recognition to mimic the eyes and brain and they use minimal amounts of preprocessing.
When it first "sees" a camera image, the Translate app finds the letters in the picture and filters out background objects to pick up the words that must be translated. If it sees blobs of pixels that are similarly colored or are close to each other, it recognizes them as a line of text to be read.
Translate on the Fly
Translate then must use deep learning to recognize what each letter actually is. The CNN in the app trains on both letters and non-letters so it can distinguish between the two and between different letters.
It then takes the recognized letters and looks them up in a dictionary to get translations. The final step is rendering the translation in the style of the original words -- looking at the colors surrounding the letters and using that to erase the original letters and substituting them with the translation.
"In the end, we were able to get our networks to give us significantly better results while running about as fast as our old system -- great for translating what you see around you on the fly," said Otavio Good, a Translate software engineer.
The updates will be available for both Android and iOS devices over the next few days. To get access to the new language capabilities, users should go to the Google Translate app, set English along with the language they’d like to translate, and click the camera button. They’ll then be prompted to download a 2 MB language pack for each.