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Toshiba develops translation app for cell phones

Travelers in East Asia may soon be able to use their cell phones for quick, easy and cheap language translation, thanks to a new prototype application from researchers at Toshiba Corp.

The company has developed a trilingual translation system with voice recognition and synthesis that's compact and light enough to be installed in a cell phone. Unlike other mobile translation applications, the software doesn't offload processing to a server on a network but performs the task inside the phone.

The software, which is a pared-down version of a PC application that Toshiba already sells in Japan, can translate freely between Japanese, English and Chinese.

Once work on the application at Toshiba's research department is complete, the cell phone version will be turned over to business units for commercialization. The Windows Mobile application could be modified to run on other operating systems, such as Android or iPhone OS, but future plans are yet to be decided.

The software works by first employing speech recognition to determine the language and what has been said. It then uses one of two translation methods — statistical machine translation or rule-based machine translation — to parse the sentence and break it down into its components. The translation is then performed, and a speech synthesis engine delivers the result.

Statistical machine translation analyzes word order and assesses probabilities to determine the meaning of a sentence; the rule-based method utilizes a database of hundreds of sentences and phrases to extract the meaning.

Toshiba's PC version uses both methods simultaneously. But cell phones lack the processing power necessary to run both, so the mobile version uses statistical machine translation for Chinese translations and rule-based translation for the others.

This version of this story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition. It's an edited version of an article that first ran on

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