The world isn’t lacking for translator apps, but it is lacking for tech that allows people to access translation services via text messaging. As foreign travelers might tell you, Google Translate is great, for example, but it fetches translations from the internet, requiring that travelers have WiFi access and/or a data. An earlier project called SMS Translator auto-translated all incoming SMS messages to a users’ language, but it was removed from the Google Play store until a bug could be fixed, and that was several years ago.
Enter TexTranslator, a project that just emerged from TechCrunch Disrupt’s overnight hackathon and presented on stage in New York this afternoon. Incorporating tech from Nexmo, which makes APIs for SMS, voice and phone verifications; the cognitive technology IBM Watson; and PubNub, which makes APIs for real-time apps, TexTranslator allows users to simply send one number to all of the contacts they’ll need to communicate with during a trip abroad, and every text sent back to them is translated into their preferred language.
It’s particularly useful in developing countries with no access to data, notes developer Shuyan Sun, a recent graduate from the machine learning program at Iowa State University, who today works at the mobile ticketing and payments company Bytemark.
The self-described hackathon junkie is someone who well knows the frustrations of the customers who TexTranslator would serve. Sun moved to the U.S. from China five years ago and his parents — unlike Sun — do not speak fluent English; as a result, they’ve struggled in their travels around the U.S. and other parts of the world.
Whether Sun turns the idea into a company remains a question but it doesn’t seem so far fetched. Last night, Sun was working side by side with a former Bytemark colleague Tommy Inouye, along with Gloria Chow, who has spent the last six years as a member of KPMG’s Innovation Lab.
The three, who met at a recent hackathon hosted by NASA (Sun and Inouye developed an app to help restaurateurs cut down on food waste), say they realized last night that they work very well together and expect to collaborate again in the future.
Asked if that might be on TexTranslate, Sun says it’s entirely possible.”I”m really excited about this,” he says. “[Navigating language barriers] is really painful, including for many international students. Text messages are way more accessible than data, and we see this as a far more effective way in solving that problem.”
You can check out the team’s presentation here:
Pictured above, from left to right: Chow, Sun, and Inouye.