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Tech modder develops Project Glass-inspired translating goggles

Augmented reality isn't just the province of well-heeled tech firms, as evidenced by wearable tech pioneer Steve Mann—who unfortunately made news earlier this month when he reported being assaulted in a Paris McDonald's by hoodlums who tried to rip off his self-built EyeTap digital eyeglasses.

This week, there's happier news in the world of DIY augmented reality, courtesy of CNET. The tech site reports that tech modder Will Powell has hacked together his own set of digital goggles which perform the profoundly useful function of translating spoken foreign languages and feeding the wearer a movie subtitle-like feed of the translation.

Powell writes on his blog that he was inspired by Google's Project Glass goggles, which the search giant demoed in high-flying fashion earlier this summer at Google I/O.

The British tinkerer's project didn't come cheap, considering the pricy Vuzix 1200 Star 3D glasses he used, although Powell did leverage a pair Raspberry Pi mini-computers running the free, open-source Debian Linux operating system to run a conversation in two languages through Microsoft's translation API. The setup also uses a Bluetooth microphone connected to a smartphone or tablet "to provide a clean, noise-cancelled audio feed."

Powell demos the set-up in the video below, which shows his conversation with a Spanish-speaking friend wearing a headset mic rather than another augmented reality rig. The translated conversation is displayed in subtitles on a TV as well as on Powell's glasses display.

The Microsoft translation engine can translate 37 languages, but CNET reckoned that the slowly spoken, "English-accented Spanish" of Powell's demo partner Elizabeth may have been easier for the software to identify and translate than a more typical exchange one might have in a non-testing environment.

Powell credited the lag in translation time to the API, despite the presence of a caching layer for frequently used words and phrases. "Passing through this API service is the biggest delay in the subtitles," he writes.

The upshot is that with materials available to anyone and a bit of technical know-how, Powell has created a working augmented reality rig that, if a bit impractical for daily use, gets the job done pretty well and could serve as a basis for more refined AR translation systems.

"I can have a conversation with Elizabeth who speaks Spanish to me and I return with English. I have never learnt Spanish but using the glasses I can have a full conversation," he writes.