Translators and Hearing Tech

There’s a good chance that you’ve already seen and been wowed by this video from Google’s latest product launch:

It looks pretty amazing, and literally countless articles have been written stating how these new wireless headphones – the Pixel Buds – could change the world by providing realtime speech translation in the palm of everyones’ hands.

Imagine if your hearing devices could do that….

Could they? Its not as though the translation we hear is happening in the earbuds themselves. Instead, it takes place in the phone and is relayed to the earbuds in near-real-time. So really, any Bluetooth-equipped headphones or hearing devices should be able to accomplish this in theory, right?

Of course I had to go ahead and try this myself. One unique aspect that the Google Pixel – Pixel Bud pairing offers is the Swedish-speaker in the video has the use of the earbud touch-button at her disposal. That single button push switches the output from the earbuds to the phone and changes the language the phone is expecting to hear. Therefore any demonstration using any other products will need a couple extra steps.

Using my Oticon Opn hearing devices, my iPhone 7, and the free Google Translate app, I made a simulation of what the Swedish woman from Google’s presentation would have to do to accomplish the same thing with these products:

If you’re having trouble following the video, imagine you’re the Swedish-speaker from the Google clip, but the phone you’re holding is the one seen here. A man asks you a question and you hear that translation through your hearing devices. You then have to manually change the audio output from the hearing aids (named “Remington” on this screen) to the iPhone speakers before replying. The phone translates your response for him, and then you have to switch the audio output back to your hearing devices before he replies. This all repeats a couple times.

I think this experiment demonstrates that using your hearing devices as real-time speech translators is absolutely doable.

Is it practical?

Not really.

But, its so, so close – and that should be enough for all of us who work with hearing devices to be very excited.



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