Foreign tourists visiting this city have long encountered translation help. But the methods are not perfect, including at restaurants, where sign language, photographs and plastic models of sushi and sashimi have been used.
Now NTT Docomo, the biggest mobile network operator in Japan, thinks it has a better solution.
This week at Ceatec, a technology trade show in Tokyo, Docomo showed off so-called wearable technology that, among other things, provides nearly instant translation of written texts. The device, called Intelligent Glass, is Docomo’s answer to Google Glass — eyewear that uses technology to perform a variety of tasks.
Slip on the device and look at text and it can be translated into a different language before your eyes. The device also performs face recognition, providing a sort of virtual business card service for people whose names you struggle to remember.
Docomo also introduced a related device, a ring, that helps turn any flat surface — a book or a pad of paper, for example — into a virtual tablet computer. Put on the Intelligent Glass, slip the ring onto your index finger and tap away as apps are beamed onto the surface before you. The ring tracks your finer movements, and you can play music, watch movies or check the time or weather — just as on an iPad.
The Docomo gadgets are among the highlights of Ceatec, one of the premier technology shows in Japan, which continues through Saturday, and a bright spot for the electronics industry here after a spate of bad news. On Monday, Toshiba said it would cut 3,000 jobs in its television business and shut two factories. Panasonic and NEC said recently that they would stop making smartphones.
To try to attract more international attention, Japanese technology companies have started making more of their product introductions at overseas events like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the IFA trade show in Berlin. Still, there have been a few interesting demonstrations at Ceatec.
Honda and Toyota, for example, showed off personal transportation devices that resemble Segways.
Sharp introduced what it described as the first notebook computer display panel to use so-called 4K, or ultra-high-definition, technology. The screen uses an LCD technology that Sharp developed, called IGZO, short for indium gallium zinc oxide, a key ingredient in the mix.
Sharp also showed a number of other interesting applications of the IGZO technology, including a so-called frameless LCD screen that appears to sit on top of its backing material, rather than being surrounded by it. IGZO enhances the resolution of even 4K screens and uses less power then conventional technologies, lengthening battery life, Sharp says.
Most of the major electronics companies were showing off 4K televisions or sets using OLED, or organic light emitting diode, technology, but these have not been an easy sell because of high costs.
Still, given all the attention on wearable technology recently, the demonstrations of the Docomo devices were attracting the longest lines at Ceatec — even if the glasses are far from a commercial introduction.
When asked when they might reach consumers, a spokesman, Takuya Ori, said, “Hopefully in time for the Olympics.”
By that, he meant the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, when translation help at restaurants could come in particularly handy.