|An NEC employee displays the automatic translation system Tele Scouter at the company's high-tech exhibition in Tokyo on November 5, 2009. (AFP photo)|
TOKYO, Nov 5, 2009 (AFP) - Most eyewear improves vision or cuts through solar glare, but a new gadget from Japan may soon sharpen linguistic skills and cut down language barriers instead, inventors said Thursday.
High-tech company NEC has come up with a device that it says will allow users to communicate with people of different languages.
Shaped like a pair of eye-glasses, but without the lenses, the computer-assisted Tele Scouter would use an imaging device to project almost real-time translations directly onto the user's retina.
The text -- provided instantly through voice recognition and translation programmes -- would effectively provide movie-like 'subtitles' during a conversation between two people wearing the glasses.
"You can keep the conversation flowing," NEC market development official Takayuki Omino told AFP at a Tokyo exposition where the device was on display.
"This could also be used for talks involving confidential information," negating the need for a human translator, said Omino.
Each user's spoken words would be picked up by a microphone, translated, and be instantly available for the counterpart in both visual text and as audio delivered through headphones.
Users can still see their conversation partner's face because the text is projected onto only part of the retina -- the first time such technology is used in a commercial product, according to NEC.
The company plans to launch the Tele Scouter in Japan in November next year, although initially without the translation mode.
NEC says the device can have other uses aside from translation.
For example, it could be useful for salespeople if it is linked with a camera, face-recognition software and a store's client database by instantly providing them with a customer's purchase history.
"It's best if you know the customer personally for individual sales pitches, but that can be difficult at big stores," Omino said. "This device can be a weapon for salespeople on the floor."
The model for sales staff and for translations is to be launched in 2011, Omino said.
A set intended for companies with 30 eyewear units would sell at 7.5 million yen (83,300 dollars), plus the cost of any customised software application.