Google buys Word Lens makers: Can you say better translations on more devices?

Quest Visual introduced its augmented reality Word Lens app in 2010, and  it’s now owned by Google(s goog). The small company was acquired by the search giant on Friday, according to Quest Visual’s site, and its technology will be brought “into Google Translate’s broad language coverage and translation capabilities in the future,” notes Engadget.

Word Lens has wowed me for these last four years. It was first available on the iPhone(s aapl) and later came to both Google Android and, more recently, Google Glass.

word lens glass

The software visually detects words seen by the camera of a smartphone, tablet or wearable computer like Glass and translates them in near real-time. Your eyes might see a sign in Spanish, for example, but Word Lens can show those same words in English or any number of other languages.

Can’t quite visualize that scenario? Here’s a look at both the app and some of the technology behind it, in a video taken by Robert Scoble back in 2011.


Google already has pretty solid language translation features available, so why bother picking up Word Lens? The answer may be seen in the video above as Otavio Good, the co-founder of Quest Visual, explained how mobile devices of the times were constrained.

Fast forward to the present day and we have various new technologies available in a mobile device, with Google Glass being a prime example. Think of advancements such as the “always listening” feature of the Moto X, for instance. If you add that to an Android Wear watch like the LG G Watch or Moto 360, Google could listen for speech in a foreign language and translate to speech or on screen.

There are apps that can do this today, of course, but adding the expertise of the Word Lens team directly to Google could bring better native translation tools. That could even allow Word Lens to work natively in the Chrome browser or Google’s Chrome OS on Chromebooks, which all have webcams that can see text for translations.