Voice translation technology, the language barrier solution in Japan



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At the height of tourism in Japan, which expects this year to exceed 30 million visitors, the language barrier is becoming more and more obvious, a problem that the state wants to solve through the technology of speech translation.

The VoiceTra program, developed by the National Institute of Communications and Information Technology of Japan (NICT), automatically translates conversations between Japanese and thirty languages ​​and is already used in areas such as healthcare, emergency assistance, transport and tourism.

The introduction of this voice translation service in the service sector is part of the Global Communication Plan (GCP) developed in 2014 by the Ministry of the Interior and Communication of Japan, aimed at "breaking language barriers".

In this way, the ministry anticipates that information and communication technologies (ICT) take on the task of communicating with tourists, focusing on the 2020 Olympic Games, the year in which the Japanese government intends to attract 40 million visitors

"One of the main projects under the GCP is the installation of these automatic translation systems at various Olympic locations," Eft explained.

The GCP Action Plan acknowledges the "problems" that foreigners experience to "lead everyday life in Japan" and suggests a solution "to make full use of multilingual voice translation systems".

According to data collected by the ministry, more than 90% of tourists visiting the country cover a dozen languages, including Korean, Chinese and English.

VoiceTra offers automatic voice translations between Japanese and 30 other languages, most of them speak in Asia, such as Burmese, Indonesian, Nepali, Vietnamese or Mongolian.

For the 2020 Olympics, the NICT aims to make this software the role of translator at information points, Internet access sites, stadiums and souvenir shops, including in other locations.

Although the service is available to all users and without any cost as a mobile application, it is "the basic way to promote VoiceTra" through "licensing companies", the agency said.

"Of course, we perform experimental activities with local service providers," the institute said. However, these are private companies to which the organism gives VoiceTra use of the quota, those who are responsible for using the software in the service sector.

"As a national institute, we focused on the development of core translation technology," said NICT, who co-operates with the Ministry for the collection of results, thereby improving the accuracy of the application.

In the private sector, VoiceTra is integrated into various technology devices that allow the software to adapt to the context in which the interaction to be translated is developed.

This is the case of Panasonic and its Megahonyak, a translational megaphone used at airports, as well as Sourcenext Corporation and Pocketalk, a travel patch for tourists or Hitachi and Ruby Concierge, a Tablet PC service that helps in navigating by public transport.

VoiceTra also uses some local governments thanks to VoiceBiz, a system developed by Japanese Toppan Printing, and a medical clinic with Melon, an alien assistant created by a multinational Konica-Minolta.

In the country accustomed to natural disasters, local fire services began to implement this technology to help tourists in emergency situations.

The Ministry of the Interior intends to further expand the use of this technology, which will require a budget of 820 million yen from the Treasury in the fiscal year 2019.

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