Dave Conroy has done something pretty exceptional with his Raspberry Pi: he’s turned it into a speech-recognising translator that recognises 60 different languages, and plays its native-speaker version of your phrase back for you. It can cross-translate between thousands of language pairs.
Hands up: I admit it. This is an application I just hadn’t imagined someone using the Pi for, and that it’s all done with free software on a tight budget is something that made us all smile. There’s no reason that this project can’t be shrunk down and made portable, which is great news for the likes of me and some of my friends in Japan: we have terrific conversations but they all involve a lot of mime, drawing on napkins and the help of two phones running Google Translate.
Google Translate and Microsoft Translate’s APIs are central to being able to create a project like this Raspberry Pi universal translator. Unfortunately Google has started charging $20 use of its API, but Microsoft’s API (in a bit of a reversal of what we’re used to) is currently still free, so Dave has been using that instead.
Dave’s done a beautiful job with a tutorial, and has made all his code available on GitHub for you to use or modify. As he says, even if you’re not interesting in building this translator, there are still many parts of this tutorial that might be interesting to you (speech recognition, text to speech, translation APIs). Let us know if you build your own – and let us know what you might be using it for!
Thanks to everyone who sent me a link to this today. Nathan Broadbent has turned his microwave into an Internet of Things microwave, with voice control, charming bingly bongly noises, a barcode scanner to look up cooking times on an online database, a touchscreen, iPad controls, a clock that’s synced to the internet, a habit of tweeting when dinner is ready, and much more. You’ll need to watch the video to believe it. Bonus points, Nathan, for making an honest-to-god raspberry pie in the thing.
Coffee and computing go hand in hand. The world’s first live streaming webcam was pointed at a coffee pot in the Cambridge University Computer Lab’s Trojan Room (yes, Americans, I know you think that sounds funny), back in the days when it was on a shared site in the centre of Cambridge and none of us had even heard of the internet.
It was 1991. A young Quentin Stafford-Fraser was researching ATM networks in the Trojan Room, and drinking too much coffee. Other people in the lab also liked fresh coffee, but there was only one coffee machine between 15 researchers, it was a long walk up an awful lot of stairs to get to the Trojan Room, and all too often, the pot was empty and the walk upstairs wasted. (I think “wasted” is pushing it a bit far. Quentin’s very good conversation.)
Ever practical, Quentin pointed a camera at the Trojan Room coffee pot, hooked it up to a video frame grabber the ATM researchers were using, got Paul Jardetzky to write some server software, and wrote the client software for it himself. Researchers downstairs could now ping the coffee pot to see whether there was anything in it. “The image was only updated about three times a minute, but that was fine because the pot filled rather slowly, and it was only greyscale, which was also fine, because so was the coffee.”
Quentin didn’t realise it at the time, but he had laid the grounds (badoom tish) for the world’s first webcam. In 1993, the <img> tag was added to HTML, meaning you could embed pictures on a webpage. The same year, two more researchers at the lab, Dan Gordon and Martyn Johnson, made changes to the original coffee pot setup to allow it to respond to requests from the internet, and xcoffee became the first ever live webcam.
The Trojan Room Coffee Pot stayed in place (and maintained an online presence: in 1996 it got its millionth hit, and journalist Steve Farrar noted that it had had more ‘visitors’ than King’s College Chapel and was therefore the number one tourist attraction in East Anglia) until 2001, when the University Computer Lab was moved out of its ramshackle old site to a shiny new building in West Cambridge. I was lucky enough to be at the university just before the move, and drank a couple of cups of coffee from the machine, courtesy of friends at the lab. (Quentin is right about the greyscale thing. Historic it might have been, but it was bloody awful coffee.) Eventually, the pot was auctioned on eBay to raise money for coffee-making in the new lab; Der Spiegel Online bought it for £3350. Apparently, Krups refurbished it free of charge, and it’s still making greyscale coffee for an office full of German journalists.
Anyway. This long preamble doesn’t have much to do with the Pi. (About an hour after I originally posted this, Barney Livingston pointed out on Twitter that The Trojan Room Coffee Server was an Acorn Archimedes, so shares its ARM processor heritage with the Pi.) But it does demonstrate that projects involving coffee and computers have a long and storied history in this part of the world. Technology has moved on, but the coffee is still supremely important. So Sacha Wolter from Deutsche Telekom has incorporated a Raspberry Pi into his coffee machine. It’s a bit more sophisticated than the Trojan Room Coffee Pot; Sacha’s coffee machine rings him up when the coffee’s ready, and if Sacha places a call to the machine, it’ll get a pot ready for his arrival.