October 5, 2017
Hailed as the real-life Babel fish, Google's Pixel Buds look set to sell out almost immediately - thanks to their AI-assisted real-time translation functions.
Leveraging the on-device machine learning functions of the Pixel 2 smartphone, the Pixel Buds are unique in offering enhanced data privacy as well as functionality. Surprisingly, Google promises that no data from Pixel 2 users will be collected by the firm while maintaining Android's always-on features.
On-stage at their Pixel 2 event in San Francisco yesterday, the tech giant provided a jaw-dropping demonstration of what the Pixel Buds are capable of. By using Google Translate, the $159 earbuds were able to translate a conversation nearly in real-time between an English-speaking American and a native Swedish speaker. The earbuds promise translation of up to 40 different languages, five hour battery life, and gesture-based touch controls for volume, track changes, Google Assistant, and more.
"It’s like you’ve got your own personal translator with you everywhere you go," writes Adam Champy, Product Manager for Google Pixel Buds, in a company blog post. "Say you’re in Little Italy, and you want to order your pasta like a pro. All you have to do is hold down on the right earbud and say, “Help me speak Italian.” As you talk, your Pixel phone’s speaker will play the translation in Italian out loud. When the waiter responds in Italian, you’ll hear the translation through your Pixel Buds."
Commentators were quick to point out the earbuds' applications for international business and travel, while others noted its teething problems. Matt Weinberger of Business Insider managed to get hands-on experience with the earbuds, indicating that there is still some work to do before they can be used in busy, noisy environments.
"First, the Pixel 2 displays a friendly welcome message, basically informing the other person that you're using a translation app and how it works," he writes. "Since I was speaking Spanish in this conversation, the message was in Spanish. As he talked in English, introducing himself to me, it did correctly read out the correct Spanish ("Hola, como estas?"). The problem was that answering him in Spanish was tricky — the room was loud, so the phone's microphone couldn't pick me up properly. Maybe don't try this in a crowded bar."
It could be some time before we see universal translators being used in meetings and networking events across the world, but it isn't far off. Google say they plan to release the earbuds for other phone platforms, but for now, they're focusing on ironing out the kinks with their new Pixel 2. If you're eager to get a first taste of this technology, you can join the Pixel Buds' presumably extensive waiting list for preorders here.
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