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Google's App for Instantly Translating Real-World Text Just Added 20 Languages

The app has expanded the languages you can instantly translate just by snapping a photo.
July 29, 2015, 6:20pm

Google Translate can now visually translate text in 20 more languages, which means the app can help guide you around a whole lot more countries than it could before.

An update released for the app today will expand the number of languages it can translate visually from seven to 27, as well as make its real-time voice translation available on slower networks.

The visual tool works when you to point your phone's camera at real-world text, like a sign or a menu, which it translates immediately. The original languages the app supported were English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, but now, you can snap a photo of text in Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Filipino, Finnish, Hungarian, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish and Ukrainian for instant translation. The app is now also offering one-way translations from English to Hindi or Thai.

The company explained in a separate blog post that the new technology is made possible through convolutional neural networks, the capabilities of which Google previously showed off with its acid-drenched artwork. Google trains the networks to recognize letters and distinguish between them, which makes for an excellent use case beyond trippy images.

"When a camera image comes in, the Google Translate app has to find the letters in the picture," Google Translate software engineer Otavio Good wrote. "It looks at blobs of pixels that have similar color to each other that are also near other similar blobs of pixels. Those are possibly letters, and if they're near each other, that makes a continuous line we should read."

The app then has to recognize the letters, look up the recognized letters in the dictionary, and then render the translation directly on top of the original words. The final product works quickly and in real time, and seems nothing short of magic in action.

The company demonstrated the technology in a video translation of the song "La Bamba."