Picture-perfect translation

November 1, 2012 by Julianna Fleming
This article appeared in Berkeley Engineer magazine, Fall 2012

Chun Ming ChinChun Ming Chin (Photo by Preston Davis)Never mind the labyrinthine streets, chaotic traffic and unfamiliar food: If you talk to many foreign travelers to China, they’ll tell you the most challenging part of the journey is the language barrier. And with thousands of symbols making up the Chinese script, deciphering a street sign, menu or train ticket can be an onerous—if not impossible—task for tourists.

But recent graduate Chun Ming Chin (M.Eng.’12 EECS) and his team at Translate Abroad have created a solution to this problem: a mobile app that makes translating Chinese characters as simple as taking a photo. Their app, Waigo, allows iPhone users to point the camera at Chinese text and see it translated instantly into English.

As a graduate student in the inaugural class of Berkeley’s new master of engineering program, Chin wanted to deepen his understanding of computer vision technology, and create what he calls “a wow moment” for his app. Chin enlisted classmates to create an algorithm to improve the program’s ability to read and translate characters.

In March, the team’s app won third place and $20,000 in the 2012 Made for China Competition, a contest for young entrepreneurs developing products for the Chinese market.

Shortly thereafter, Translate Abroad released their first consumer-ready app, currently available for download at the Apple store. The technology developed at Berkeley will be rolled out in a later version of the product.