There have been many crazy ideas in the past that have turned small companies into successful ones. The business idea of the Darmstadt startup Universal Language Translator (ULT) goes back to the science fiction series Star Trek, where thanks to a portable tricorder, the language of every alien race can be translated.
Company founder Reginald Dalce (47) got the idea about creating something like this in real life. He realized that smartphones and tablets could make excellent Start Trek-like tricorders – with the right software.
He told his friends about his idea and made a small network, from which finally the start-up emerged one and a half years ago. Meanwhile, the team consists of eight, some of whom work full-time in the areas of software development, voice control or marketing.
One of them is Rafael Schimanski, 40, who works in Group Innovation at Deutsche Telekom in Darmstadt. “In the past few months we have developed a prototype and we can say: ULT has become a reality.”
The real-time translator is available as an app for your smartphone or tablet, currently for free and should be able to handle up to 130 languages. The special feature is that the foreign language – or dialect – can be heard in the original voice. “There will also be Hessian,” says Andreas Heuberger (53), who is responsible for marketing.
To make the development fast and cost-effective, the start-up sought a service provider in India. The team is in contact via video conferencing. To further develop the technology, the start-up is looking for volunteers who provide their voice through licenses. “So you can even earn something with us,” says Schimanski.
ULT has built a large marketing network during this time. It is present in social media and has made contact with some technology bloggers. The company also works with so-called ambassadors who promote the product in countries outside Germany, such as Russia and the Ukraine.
“These are mainly influencers who have a large presence on Youtube and are willing to include us in their contributions,” says Schimanski. In addition, the app will be widely used in Brazil, India and Indonesia.
There are many potential uses: “We received good feedback from private individuals who met at family gatherings, such as weddings or funerals, and suddenly found themselves unable to speak any language with relatives from abroad,” says Schimanski.
But business with companies is also promising, either for conferences with foreign colleagues or for people with disabilities. “For example, we’re working on making our own chips that can be built into hearing-impaired headphones.”
The market potential is “gigantic” and one billion sales is quite within the range of the possible. ULT is not afraid of the competition from Silicon Valley.
While some startups in the US also experimented with natural voices, they did not really care about privacy. ULT deliberately wants to position itself as a German company that adheres to the strict regulations in this country. Currently, the company is only in the US commercial register, the patent is also registered in the US. By the end of the year, there should be a legal form in Germany.
ULT is currently participating in the UQBATE program of Deutsche Telekom and is free to use rooms at the headquarters in Darmstadt.
In addition, there is a possibility for getting into a funding program of the European Space Agency ESA. “We would then have the opportunity to experiment with the algorithms,” says Schimanski. The original Start Trek idea with tricorders is so close.
Translated from German: echo-online.de