Visitor's to Tokyo's Narita airport can avail themselves of a bi-lingual PDA which translates between English and Japanese.
The "e-Navi" contains 50,000 Japanese and 25,000 English words and is reckoned to be able to cope with slang. Punters just speak into the device, and are given an almost instant translation.
NEC is behind the technology, which uses voice recognition, digital voice translation and a voice synthesiser to deliver the required speech.
Chris Shimizu, NEC's corporate relations manager, says that the system has tackled some of the more slippery problems of voice recognition. For one, it can apparently handle accents. What's more, "it doesn't require a user to pre-register their voice". Shimizu said that the technology would "absolutely ideal" for mobile phones, since it is virtually instantaneous.
Almost inevitably - this being Japan and all - the "e-Navi" translator began life as one component of the Papero - a talking robotic "personal companion". Sadly, the little cyberpal wasn't asked to provide a suitably user-friendly and colloquial English name for itself, since Papero is short for the decidedly non-fluffy "Partner-Type Personal Robot".
It will be interesting to see if the e-Navi really has picked the bugs out of voice recognition, or whether hapless travellers will be wandering around Narita's concourse shouting "my hovercraft is full of eels" at terrified locals. ®