NEC and Sumitomo Mitsui Construction have unveiled a new translation system that is designed to facilitate communication in settings in which multiple languages are being spoken. The system has already been deployed in Sumitomo’s DoKoMinaPhone smartphone application, which will initially be marketed to organizations in the construction industry.
According to NEC, the new system is noteworthy because it introduces a broadcast function that allows someone to make an announcement to an entire workplace, knowing that the message will be translated and received in each listener’s preferred language. The system currently offers support for Japanese and English, though NEC is planning to add additional languages to the platform in the months and years ahead.
With the DoKoMinaPhone app, users can use their phone to record a voice message. The app will then translate that message, using a neural translation engine that mimics the sound of human speech. The app will also create a text version of the original message and its translated counterpart. For those interested, the app can reverse translate the text message back to the original language so the sender can confirm that the translation is correct.
The neural engine that powers the system comes courtesy of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). The app uses QR codes to make it easy for new employees to join pre-set working groups.
NEC will use feedback from early deployments to refine the app over time. The company is already planning to add a hands-free utility, and improve the system’s vocabulary to better deal with industry-specific terms and phrases.
The new app expands on NEC’s existing relationships with various Sumitomo entities. The Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group used NEC’s facial recognition technology in a payments trial in 2016, while Sumitomo Electric has worked with NEC to develop technologies for connected cars. Financial Group CEO Jun Ohta also joined the NEC Board of Directors in March of 2020.