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Google Buys the Makers of the Magical Google Glass Translation App

Word Lens from Quest Visual put on the most impressive Google Glass demo I've ever seen.

The company behind the most impressive Google Glass demo I’ve seen has been bought by Google.

Word Lens translated written words from one language to another and overlaid them back on top of the world with matched perspective, color and font — so it essentially rewrote the world into your own language as you were looking.

The app was available for Android and iPhone as well, but the effect of overlaying translations on top of reality was particularly effective for a computer worn on your face.

A Google spokesman confirmed the deal to buy Quest Visual, the company behind Word Lens, which announced the acquisition on its website. The Quest Visual team is joining Google Translate, not Google Glass. For now, the apps are still live, and they’ve been made free for new downloads.

After seeing Word Lens demoed at a Google Glass event, I wrote:

Imagine you’re traveling in a country whose language you don’t speak. You look up at a sign — say, a caution marker, or a list of directions. Oh, also, you’re wearing Google Glass. You say, “Okay Glass, translate this.” The words on the sign transform into your home language, so when you look through Glass, you can read them.

That’s what the new Word Lens app for Google Glass does, and it’s kind of magical. Blobs of translated text appear on the wearer’s screen with perspective intact, the same background color, and a matched font. It looks as though the sign has been reprinted in your own language.

This works best with Helvetica and other plain, sans-serif fonts, according to the Word Lens team, whose company is named Quest Visual. Times New Roman is a challenge.

The Word Lens Glass app works in real time, and it also accesses local storage. A dictionary of about 10,000 words in each chosen language are stored locally on the device, so users can get their translations even when they travel internationally without a data plan. That’s in contrast to Google’s own Google Goggles app, which requires a Web connection.

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