The Pilot earpiece is a real-life Babel fish

"You just come along with me and have a good time. The Galaxy's a fun place. You'll need to have this fish in your ear."

Language barriers are no fun. You want to explore a country you’ve never visited before, you want to talk with the locals, or maybe you want to be more helpful to tourists back at home. The world is becoming smaller and more connected but the language barriers are ever present. Waverly Labs has created an earpiece called the Pilot that intends to break down language barriers by translating in real-time and playing the sound in your ear. It’s reminiscent of the fictional Babel fish created by Douglas Adams:

“The Babel fish,” said The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly, “is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it…”

“The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything in any form of language.”

The Pilot is actually a pair of earpieces to be worn by two people. So you can’t listen to everyone all around you in a busy marketplace but you can interact with another individual. The earpiece connects to an app so presumably the translation is happening on your smartphone. The app lets you choose the language to use and works with French, Spanish, Italian, and English.

The ability to instantly understand another individual’s language has been a fantasy in fiction for centuries, achieved with magical spells or futuristic devices. If it works then the result is brilliant but a part of me finds it a bit lazy. There’s something fun about learning a new language. More importantly, it shows respect if you try to learn even a little of the language when visiting another country. In my experience, people are appreciative of you trying to speak the language even if you struggle and end up having to revert to English anyway.

Language barriers are even more noticeable today since we can easily reach other cultures via the internet. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the internet is in English but that’s simply not true. English is the most popular language on Twitter, for example, but only with about 35% of users. In 2013, Japanese and Spanish made up 16% and 12%, respectively.

There will always be language barriers so it pays to learn a other languages or at the very least try out technology to hear more voices. Online that usually means Google Translate, which is good for some languages but terrible for the more context-driven ones. In meatspace, perhaps the Pilot can break down those barriers. Hopefully it will make the world even more open and connected. Or maybe not.

“Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”

Waverly Labs are aiming for a September launch. The Pilot will eventually retail for around $300 (£209) but an Indiegogo campaign is starting soon and early bird backing options will start at $129 (£90). Pre-orders will begin soon and you can sign up for alerts.

Main image: Waverly Labs