Japanese Railway Auto-Translates Customer Queries As Chats On Transparent Screens In Station

August 3, 2023 by Dave Haynes

A Japanese passenger railway has started testing a service that auto-translates conversations at customer information counters – enabling foreign travellers with little or no Japanese to get answers returned in their language on a transparent screen that sits between the railway staffer and the traveler.

Seibu Railway is testing what it calls polyglot simultaneous translation at the Shinjuku station in Tokyo.

Interactions with an attendant happen in front of a 40cm (16 inches) high transparent display, with the translated conversation popping up on the display like a chatbot back and forth. Translations are supported for 12 languages, including Filipino, Spanish, French, Thai, Bahasa Indonesian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Brazilian Portuguese and English.

Seibu Railway says the goal is to make foreign visitors feel safe and comfortable using its service. The trial period is planned to run for about three months, with plans to roll it out this fall to other locations.

I THINK this is a transparent LCD using edge-lighting, not a transparent OLED. The LCD would presumably be less costly and colors don’t need to pop, it just needs to be bright enough to be viewed in the station hall.

The translation side of this is great, and there’s a lot of potential scale for all kinds of mass transport systems. But I also think there’s a role for this in endless staff-to-customer interactions even in the same language, that happen through a glass divider with a little hole used to converse and hear. My hearing is not what it used to be (I blame an insanely loud Johnny Winter concert in 1981), and I have enough trouble hearing what station attendants are saying in English, never mind a foreign language.

And then there are accents. I stream British police and spy thrillers with closed captioning on, so I can figure out what they’re saying.

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