Google's new headphones can translate languages in real-time

Google's new headphones can translate languages in real-time

When you stop and think about a lot of science-fiction, certain things don't make sense. For instance, it's pretty unlikely that in Star Wars, set "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away," there would be people that look exactly like humans walking around. And think about all the movies where English is the common language of dozens and sometimes hundreds of different alien species.

Some sci-fi gets away with this by inventing some technology to explain why exactly the main characters can communicate to anyone. In Doctor Who, the TARDIS provides translations directly into its passengers' minds; Star Trek has the aptly-named "Universal Translator", while The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has the "babel fish". But this kind of technology is no longer restricted to the realm of science fiction.

This week, Google held a press conference in San Francisco, where the company announced various different products, from cameras to new phones. The star of the show was the Pixel 2, a new phone that comes with a water-resistant aluminium body with a curved OLED display, a fingerprint scanner, and front-facing stereo speakers. Yet the most interesting new technology they introduced is actually a pair of earphones...

Google's first pair of wireless headphones were shown off on the stage by Juston Payne, Product Manager for the company. First of all, he spoke about their touch functionality and their ease of use. "With Pixel Buds, controlling your music is super simple, because all of the controls are built into the right ear bud," Payne said, "You simply tap to start and stop your music, or swipe forwards and backwards to change the volume."

Yet the interesting thing about this technology is its translation feature, something which has brought us closer to the world of universal translators. These earphones, which are called "Google Pixel Buds", are paired with the Pixel 2 to translate up to 40 languages almost instantly.

During the presentation, a Payne invited up another Google employee to speak to him in her native language of Swedish. As he spoke in English to her, it was translated into Swedish for her to understand, then her response was translated back into English for him.

It's worth mentioning that this was in a controlled test environment, so it may not work exactly as advertised, but this still looks to be a huge step forward in communication technology. The earphones come with a charging case, and you'll have access to this translation feature – as long as it's still paired up with the Pixel 2.

Both the Pixel 2 and these earphones are available to pre-order now. The Google Pixel Buds (a name that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it?) will set you back $159. Hopefully, this is just the first step into a world where you won't ever need to study a phrasebook when you're traveling abroad.