Kinki Nippon Tourist is partnering with Japanese technology firm FueTrek to make robot translators a reality. Beginning early this year, the companies plan to offer small robots, tablet computers and wearable devices that would be able to translate several languages between foreigners and locals, according to TTG Asia.
The device could be useful to companies, including hotels and small businesses, that are serving foreigners but do not have staff with the necessary language skills.
The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has grown rapidly over the past three years, according to Japan Tourism Marketing, reaching nearly 2 million visitors in July 2015 alone. Travelers from China, Korea and other Asian countries are driving a majority of the growth, although the tourism organization reports increases from all over the world.
FueTrek offers several technology services, including speech recognition software. The software combines automatic speech recognition, machine translation and text-to-speech technologies to serve a wide range of purposes, of which tourism is just one use case.
However, there are plenty of critics of the idea of robot translators in Japan.
A spokesman for a Japanese tour company questioned how big a difference a robot translator would make in luring visitors.
“I think Japanese people will still appreciate a foreigner making the effort to actually speak their language with the use of a phrasebook,” James Mundy, PR manager at Inside Japan Tours, told TTG Asia. “The effort goes a long way and makes for more meaningful interactions with the people of Japan.”