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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 09:16 GMT
Languages in the palm of your hand
The UT-103 translator
The UT-103 translator is small and light
Alfred Hermida

If you travel a lot but languages are not your strong point, then a Russian company might just have the answer.

It has developed a handy pocket-sized gadget that translates English phrases into French, German or Spanish.

Instead of thumbing through a dictionary, you just say a phrase in English, the device translates it and then repeats out loud in the foreign language in a robotic voice.

"This is the first translator in the world that understands voice and it was primarily designed for travellers," said Arkady Davydov of Ectaco which developed the product.

"It is more than an electronic phrasebook because it recognises any phrase you say.

"In the future we will have models for all the other languages," he told the BBC programme, Go Digital.

The next steps are adding more languages, including English to Chinese by the end of the year.

"Two speakers, English and Chinese, will be able to communicate live without having to use the phrasebook or dictionary," said Mr Davydov. "It is going to be really amazing."

Accurate 90% of the time

The Universal Translator UT-103 was developed by the Ectaco company based in St Petersburg, Russia.

The device fits in a pocket with ease. It uses AA batteries and costs $249.95, which could pay for a few bulky paper dictionaries.

Ectaco's Arkady Davydov
Davydov: Designed for travellers in mind
The specially-developed speech recognition software allows it to recognise and translate 3,000 phrases commonly used in all kinds of travel.

They include categories such as eating, shopping and driving.

During a demonstration, the translator did make a few mistakes, failing to recognise some phrases.

It translated a question about a charge for extra luggage as "when is the train going to depart".

"Unfortunately there is a lot of background noise here," explained Mr Davydov. "Usually it works 90% of the time."

Specialist uses

Ectaco say the translator will understand what you say, regardless of your accent.

Developing the device, they recorded more than 700 native English and foreign speakers to create a phonetic bank of all recorded phrases.

Two speakers, English and Chinese, will be able to communicate live without having to use the phrasebook or dictionary

Arkady Davydov, Ectaco
Then a special set of algorithms was used to identify the pattern behind a particular phrase.

The device compares the phrase to the patterns in its database before selecting the right phrase to translate.

The translator then pronounces the phrase, as well as displaying it on a small screen.

Long arm of the law

The company is now developing its speech-to-speech technology for use in specialist areas.

Ectaco has created a version of the device for police in the USA.

The Law Enforcement Universal Translator recognizes English phrases commonly used in police work, translates them and pronounces them in Spanish.

The aim of the device is to help police officers who often deal with people who do not even speak elementary English.

Ectaco's Arkady Davydov
demonstrates the translator
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