The Japanese information technology (IT) and communications company Fujitsu recently launched a new speech translation system, notable for the fact that it’s a hands-free device that automatically detects and translates speech in more than ten different languages. Currently, the device is specialized for translation in medical settings, however the company also expects that it will be useful at popular tourist destinations, according to a report from the Japan Times.
The system consists of microphones, a tablet device which displays the translations, and a translation app featuring the machine translation (MT) system designed by Mirai Translate Co. This MT system was built using data and research from Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), which also conducted research used in developing another MT system released earlier this year, NEC’s DokoMinaPhone App.
Fujitsu’s hands-free translation device is noted as having a highly accurate voice recognition system, as the company utilizes technology that limits the acoustic distortion caused by background noise. Microphones set up throughout a given room can identify the locations of speakers as well as the language they are speaking, translating it into the listener’s native language when necessary. Currently, the product offers translations between Japanese, Korean, Mandarin (both Traditional and Simplified characters can be displayed as well), Burmese, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.
So far, Fujitsu has tested out the product in both medical and tourist settings throughout Japan — the hands-free technology is particularly useful for medical environments, as many patients may not be particularly mobile.
Japan is one of the first countries in the world to have been classified as a “super-aging population,” meaning that the country has a comparatively large elderly population — this large elderly population has also led to an increased demand for medical services that the country has had to keep up with. Due to a declining birth rate and an increased need for young healthcare workers, many medical staff in Japan hail from Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Vietnam. The language barrier between Japanese patients and non-Japanese care workers has been shown to be a significant source of stress for the workers, and Fujitsu’s technology aims to improve the patient-care worker relationship by mitigating the effects of the language barrier.