Talko-Lingo allows interlocutors to pick their language

Poka has recently been invited to present a project during the annual AWS re:Invent convention. During the conference, there is an activity called Builder’s Fair, in which participants showcase creations of their own, just like in a college science fair. Those projects made by hobbyists often sit at the intersection of cloud technologies and hardware.

Our idea was to create a multi-lingual walkie-talkie. The premise was pretty simple: users of the walkie-talkie could pick which language they wanted to speak in. By choosing a specific language, users would also hear the other interlocutor’s message in that given language. We named this project Talko-Lingo.

Building Talko-Lingo

The Talko-Lingo team, composed of Maxime Leblanc, Laurent Jalbert Simard and I were working hard at designing, 3d-printing, soldering and writing code for the new device. The walkie-talkie was in fact a Raspberry Pi enclosed in a custom 3d-printed case, which adorned a mic+speaker combo, a digital display and 8-position knob to select your favorite language.

The Talko-Lingo multi-lingual walkie-talkie

If you are interested in building the device for yourself, we have open-sourced all the necessary code, instructions and schematics in this GitHub repository: https://github.com/PokaInc/talko-lingo .

Excerpt from the Talko-Lingo DIY instructions

At the hardware level, we used consumer-grade electronics: A simple Raspberry Pi hooked-up with some Adafruit electronics, including a speaker bonnet, a push-button, a microphone and a rotary switch to let users choose their language.

On the software side, we used two python services, which we called tx and rx, and like their name says one is responsible to transmit the recorded voice to AWS and the other one receives the translated audio file and plays it.

The translation happens on AWS side, using a mix of technologies like AWS Transcribe (Speech-to-Text), AWS Translate (translation) and AWS Polly (Text-to-Speech). Again, you can see all that code for yourself on our public repository.

Showcasing Talko-Lingo

On November 28 & 29, the Builder’s Fair took place at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. On the floor of the enormous Quad room, a handful of creators were putting their inventions on display. Accompanied by Ralph Holm, a Solutions Architect at AWS, the Talko-Lingo team made 2 walkie-talkies available for visitors to play with.

Laurent demonstrating Talko-Lingo to a Builder’s Fair attendee

Attendees could pick from 5 languages (en-US, es-US, fr-CA, en-GB and en-AU). Then, by holding the walkie-talkie’s button and speaking into the device, users could see in real time the different steps that were happening in the translation pipeline hosted in the AWS cloud. Over those 2 days, the demonstrations were very well received by the public. Talko-Lingo was even the most voted-for project on the floor on November 29! Here’s an idea of the popularity of the project, measured by the number of times people used the device, per hour:

Translations per hour during the 2 days of Builder’s Fair

What now?

Talko Lingo was a big hit at re:Invent 2018

Building the Talko-Lingo project was a lot of fun. Creating devices from scratch that people like to use was really rewarding. Thanks to Poka for supporting us during the development of Talko-Lingo. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll be presenting another awesome invention at re:Invent 2019!