As someone with a largely stamped passport, it was common to find myself in situations where the lines of communication function more like a dead end than a one-way street. While language barriers can be overcome, there are numerous instances where mutual understanding is required in order to communicate intentions and make a connection. This makes the rapidly evolving technologies of real-time speech translation one of the most exciting developments taking place today.
One of the more promising innovators in this area of cross-communication technology is Timekettle, a hardware and software company founded in 2016 that used artificial intelligence to make the dream of real-time intersilingual communication with voice-translating earbuds a reality.
Timekettle took its place in the industry back in 2018 with the release of its WT2 Plus Translator Earbuds, a device that translates speech in real time and with a design that is similar in shape and fit to Apple and Samsung earbuds. However, the Timekettle team recognized that there was room for improvement, particularly with the aim of eliminating the lengthy staccato pauses required to keep their technology running and ensuring more natural, fluid, real-time communication between two parties.
Their latest Timekettle WT2 Edge is the first integrated simultaneous and bidirectional translation that is portable using artificial intelligence and offers a completely hands-free experience with only half a second between languages to translate 40 languages with an accuracy of up to 95%. to translate.
We spoke to Alex Qin, Global Sales Director of Timekettle Technology, for more insights into the company’s latest WT2 Edge:
The WT2 Edge builds on the original solutions of the WT2 Plus. How did the original design affect the improvements made to the Edge?
Good question! The WT2 Edge was improved according to feedback from many users of the WT2 Plus, specifically that users wanted to be able to instantly turn on during breaks when the person they were talking to stopped talking. The WT2 Plus only supports translation in one direction. One side has to wait for the other to finish. A real conversation takes place as a back and forth dialogue. Therefore, we have developed a bidirectional translation device that allows two sides to speak at the same time and deliver a multilingual conversation that is closer to natural conversation.
We have also heard from WT2 Plus users that the earbuds may occasionally mistakenly translate voices from nearby speakers. Our “simul mode” works best in a quiet environment. So it wasn’t surprising that our users hoped for a wider range of uses and scenarios. It is a challenge to develop a device that can clearly distinguish the speaking sentences with intrusive ambient noises – or someone speaking nearby. With the WT2 Edge, we were able to solve this problem by using a Z-vector speech algorithm (measurement of depth) in addition to the dual microphones built into each earbud. That way, we were able to incorporate intelligent noise-canceling technology that allows each earbud to detect sounds within a 10-inch (10-inch) radius of the front microphone while filtering out other sounds before sending a recognized voice to our engine for translation.
It’s easy to confuse the Plus and Edge as earbuds designed for listening to music and talking about a call. What are the inherent differences between a translation / conversation wearable and Apple AirPods?
The WT2 Edge earbuds are designed for translation only and are in fact different from traditional true wireless stereo hardware for music and phone calls. This is because the transmission of voice input and output for translation requires a high active response for two parties conversing at the same time. Second, WT2 Edge is a hardware and software product. The “Timekettle” app also plays a very important role in collaboration in voice transmission and processing. It uses two algorithms that work at the same time – one in the earphone and the other in the Timekettle app.
If you find that the WT2 Edge is 33% smaller and 46% lighter than the WT2 Plus, can you tell us how that reduction was achieved without significantly affecting battery life?
In fact, the WT2 Edge’s battery life was impacted by the integration of our Z-vector speech algorithm. The algorithm is constantly in operation. Nevertheless, the WT2 Edge supports around 3 hours per call (the WT2 Plus can be operated for 4 to 5 hours between charges). However, the Edge’s charging case can charge the earbuds 5-6 times. We are also continuously optimizing the algorithm to reduce battery consumption and allow users to have a longer multilingual conversation.
One issue that affects any in-ear design is fit. How does this new design ensure a secure fit ergonomically?
To ensure a secure fit, we reduced the ear post and distributed the center of gravity of the earbuds for a more secure fit compared to the WT2 Plus. For people with ears who can’t comfortably pick up the Edge, we can consider an ear hook like the one in WT2 Plus.
The WT2 Edge supports translation of 40 languages and 93 accents. Is the technology able to distinguish and translate native accents (e.g., an American speaking with a New York accent versus someone with a southern accent)?
We added the ability to not only identify voices from different countries but also differentiate how the same language is spoken in different regions to the WT2 Edge. For example, there are fourteen English accents, including English with British, American, Canadian, Austrian, Indian, Singaporean, South African, Filipino, Irish, Kenyan, Tanzanian, and Ghanaian accents. We’ll keep adding more, but we believe that our AI speech recognition will improve over time with native accents using our training system.
One earphone must be shared in simultaneous mode. In light of the pandemic, is Timekettle investigating that sharing physical products is a problem incorporating UV light into the case to sanitize earbuds anywhere down the line?
Yes, we considered the possibility. However, according to our surveys, most people use our earbuds in safe and close relationships. Therefore, a disinfecting UV light integrated into the housing has not yet been classified as a coveted feature.
The Timekettle WT2 Edge is slated to ship in April 2021 and is currently seeking crowdfunding support before officially launching. Please visit timekettle.co for more information.