Star Trek rules as American adopts ‘universal translator’

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January 09, 2020
Amrican translator
Google's nest Hub allows foreign passengers to communicate with staff. Photo: American

Star Trek’s universal translator concept has gained another aviation convert with American Airlines becoming the first carrier to field Google Assistant’s interpreter mode to help communicate with foreign passengers.

The airline has already started testing the technology at Admirals Club lounges at Los Angeles International Airport.

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The service uses a Google Nest Hub and can translate 29 languages in real-time, including Arabic, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Google designed it with airlines and airports in mind but is also targeting banking, sporting events, hotels and humanitarian organizations.

The translator is already being used by JFK International Airport in New York at information desks within the terminal.

American says the technology will be used to help passengers only when a multilingual staffer is not available.

“The science-fiction universal translator is now science fact,” said American chief information officer Maya Leibman.

“Incorporating technology like the Google Assistant’s interpreter mode will help us break down barriers, provide a worry-free travel experience and make travel more accessible to all.”

American is not the only airline to harness real-time translation to help bridge the language gap.

Japan’s All Nippon Airways is distributing sci-fi-like interactive translators using a different technology from POCKETALK across 50 domestic airports.

The hand-held devices can handle 74 languages, translating 55 into speech and 19 into text.

The first devices were available in the lobby and at boarding gates at Osaka International Itami Airport from December 18 and the airline intends to distribute 200 of the devices around the country.

American noted the Google Assistant is part of a push to use technology to make travel easier for passengers.

It said other recent introductions included mobile passport scanning, boarding notifications, online virtual 3D aircraft tours and a redesigned self-service kiosk menu that simplifies the check-in process.