Imagine arriving in a foreign city, in a land where you don't speak the language. You want to go sightseeing, but you can't understand the signs.
Fortunately, you have in your pocket an HP Jornada handheld mobile computing device. And because you're planning to capture snapshots of your vacation, you've also brought an HP digital camera -- in this case, in the form of an attachment that slots into the Jornada.
Pointing the camera at a road sign, you click the shutter. In seconds, the Jornada's optical character recognition software processes the images of the letters on the sign. Then language translation software translates the sign into your language and displays it on the brilliant color screen.
Researchers at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories at Bristol, UK, are working on this and other projects that link the gathering and capturing of images -- including signs, menus, newspapers and hotel information -- with powerful, pocket-sized computers
Theirs is the only device that can scan, capture and translate text completely on board a handheld computer, without having to send the text wirelessly to a powerful server for processing.
"This is an exciting time for computer vision and image-processing scientists," says HP researcher Maurizio Pilu, who developed the Jornada translator with colleague Stephen Pollard.
"For the first time, we can prototype ideas on truly mobile, powerful and programmable hand-held computers, such as the HP Jornada. Our research group is looking at the intersection between these powerful mobile computing devices and imaging systems."
The latest HP Jornada has a built-in cellular phone link that will allow the researchers to access Web-based online translation sites.
Exciting as the possibilities of a pocket camera and translation device are, they don't end there.
"We're working towards a time when you'll be able to get out of a train station in Italy, use the camera to read direction signs, pan the camera across the Piazza, and graphic overlays will show you the route to the hotel you booked, the best sights to see, the best restaurants," says Pilu.
linking physical and cyber worlds
All the hardware -- the HP Jornada pocket computer, the camera attachment -- is available today. But it's the creativity of HP's researchers that's revealing just how this powerful combination might be combined with appropriate software for use in the future.
"We believe that future mobile devices will enable completely new ways of 'bridging the gap' between our physical world and the cyber world," says Pilu.
by Julian Richards