No Longer Lost in Translation
Just two years ago, American Ryan Rogowski found himself living and working in China building mobile games. He had never spoken Chinese before and learning the language proved to be quite difficult.
If only a tool existed that allowed you to look up characters on a phone simply by pointing your camera at the text, Rogowski thought.
Enter Huan-Yu Wu (MS ’10) who is helping make that dream a reality.
Rogowski met Wu shortly after he returned to the U.S. He encouraged Wu to help with his idea by joining Translate Abroad, a small startup company.
“I had a passion for image processing, and he was looking for teammates to build the app,” said Wu. “We soon realized the potential of our project, too.”
Today the free app is better known as Waygo, a name chosen because of the similar pronunciation of the Chinese word, 外国, which means foreign country. Wu has been instrumental in the development of the app’s image capture and analysis features.
Waygo is able to instantly translate Chinese to English via an iPhone, but other languages like Japanese and Korean, as well as English to Chinese translations, are in the works.
“We decided to first focus on China and the East Asian market because that’s where our team had the most experience,” said Wu. “These countries also use some of the more difficult languages to translate but we’re up for the challenge.”
Wu’s familiar with tackling new research. At Boston University, he studied under Professor Janusz Konrad (ECE) and Associate Professor Prakash Ishwar (ECE) in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Both professors pushed him to learn more about image processing during his small classes and master’s project.
“It was easy to interact with my professors so I was able to get the most out of studying here,” said Wu. “Also, Boston’s easy access to resources makes it one of my favorite cities.”
Ishwar, who with Konrad was one of Wu’s co-advisors, recalls that his former student was difficult to read initially thanks to his soft-spoken nature.
“In your first meeting with Huan-Yu, you may not grasp his steely determination to succeed, hard work, perseverance, and sharp intellect lurking under his quiet and unassuming nature,” said Ishwar, “but if you give him a chance and wait to see the quality and quantity of his work output, you will be pleasantly surprised to find out how wrong you were.”
Wu decided to attend BU after browsing through some websites and discovering the ECE Department’s strong group in signal processing.
“This was what I had wanted to learn, and after I came here to study, I was really glad I made the right choice,” said Wu.
By working with Ishwar and Konrad, Wu gained a greater understanding of image processing – information he uses every day at Translate Abroad where he works on the algorithms and back end of the app. His counterparts – Rogowski, the CEO, and Kevin Clark, who works on the mobile and front-end aspects of the product – also possess backgrounds in image processing research.
“To be more productive, we divided our work and supported each other on our assignments,” said Wu. “Ryan focuses on the business side, Kevin designs mobile interface, and I develop the recognition and translation algorithm.”
More recently, Waygo added a fourth member, Robert Sanchez, who helps in marketing and business operations. All four are working from Providence, R.I., though the company now additionally has ties to Mountain View, Calif., after recently joining the startup accelerator program, 500 Startups.
Their company may be in its early stages still but it’s already received praise for Waygo at the Global Mobile Internet Conference – Silicon Valley last October. The app, then known as Waigo Translate, took home top honors and beat over 200 competitors in the event’s appAttack contest. For their design, the Waygo team was awarded $5,000.
“The conference turned out to be a wonderful platform for keeping up-to-date with new technologies and connecting with great people,” said Wu. “There were a number of people present who travel back and forth between the U.S. and China, so it was a good opportunity to build traction with our app,” said Wu.
Whether you’re traveling to China soon or simply want to have a better understanding of the menu the next time you’re at a Chinese restaurant, Waygo is worth trying out.
-Rachel Harrington (email@example.com)
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