An iPhone application that turns the Apple phone into a translator that converts English speech into Spanish, or vice versa, is now being sold by Jibbigo LLC, a startup company launched by Alex Waibel, professor of computer science and language technologies at Carnegie Mellon University.
The Jibbigo app, which works on the iPhone 3GS, has a vocabulary of roughly 40,000 words. It is a general translator, though it is particularly attuned to the needs of international travelers and medical doctors. Users simply speak a sentence or two at a time into the iPhone and the phone will respond with an audible translation.
"Jibbigo's software runs on the iPhone itself, so it doesn't need to be connected to the Web to access a distant server," Waibel said. "That's important for travelers and especially for humanitarian aid workers who venture beyond the big cities. It's in those areas, where wireless hotspots are few and far between — if they exist at all — that Jibbigo might be needed the most."
Waibel is an international leader in speech-to-speech translation and multimodal speech interfaces, creating the first real-time, speech-to-speech translator for English, German and Japanese. A professor at both Carnegie Mellon and the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, he directs the International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies, or interACT, with sites in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Karlsruhe and Pittsburgh.
"Automated speech translation is an expensive proposition that has been supported primarily by large government grants," Waibel said. "But our sponsors are impatient to see this technology become more widely available and we, as researchers, are eager to find new revenues that will help us extend this technology to more of the 6,000 languages now spoken worldwide. Creating companies such as Jibbigo is one way we are trying to realize both of those goals."
In addition to Waibel, the Jibbigo LLC team that developed the speech-to-speech translation app includes 10 former students and graduates of Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley campuses and of the University of Karlsruhe.
Though Jibbigo allows an iPhone to act as a translation device for speech, the architecture of the iPhone does not allow Jibbigo to act as a translator for telephone conversations.