With the vision to make communication easy for everyone, Takuro Yoshida founded Logbar in 2013 and launched in 2017 ili, the world's first wearable wifi-free translator for travelers, currently available in English, Japanese and Chinese.
Leaders League. How will Ili change the way we interact with people when travelling abroad?
Takuro Yoshida. Being able to communicate is one of the biggest difficulties when travelling today. If you go to Japan, for example, it might be difficult to ask simple questions such as how much something costs. Ili lets you go anywhere without worrying about the language barrier, you can say what you want and people will be able to understand you. ili makes travelling very easier and more convenient.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when developing this real-time translating technology?
The biggest obstacle was developing Ili’s defining traits. Looking for practicality and convenience Ili needed to work without an internet connection, and be small enough to be portable. To make this possible, first we had to develop a software that allows accurate real-time translation, second we needed to manufacture a hardware that was small enough to be comfortably portable and finally we had to put the two together. For two years we have been developing this technology and are happy to see the end result.
In the course of your work, have you found other obstacles to this technology becoming the norm?
Yes, right now the biggest challenge in electronic translation lays in its accuracy which limits the possibility of getting accurate translation for longer sentences or for interpreting dialogue. Additionally, accents sometimes pose a big problem for this type of technology. We at Ili used a database of American people, so that is the accent Ili recognizes. Other accents from English native-speaking counties such as English, Australian and Canadian haven’t been a problem; nevertheless sometimes people from Singapore and India have had problems trying to make Ili to understand them in English. This is definitely a challenge automatic translating devices face in becoming the norm. Nevertheless, progress is being made and when this issue has been overcome, human translators will be a thing of the past.
Usually translating programs give unnatural answers, how has Ili tackled this problem?
The structure of each language is very different, each time we applied the technology to a different pair of languages we had to adjust this structure to get better results. Our translation device is not yet perfect. Sometimes it can get a translation wrong. What we have done is to focus on one phrase and make short sentences which are useful for travelers such as “how can I get to JFK airport,” this allows Ili be more accurate. This is only the first step and in the future Ili will be able to translate more complex sentences. Our goal is to be able to expand to different markets such as business negotiations, medical and litigation.
What are Ili's plans once it hits the market?
Right now Ili can translate from and to English Japanese and Chinese. In the near future it will support Spanish, Thai, French, German and other languages. Even though we just started developing our products, we’ve seen a lot of interest in it from around the world. Already companies and travelers from the USA, Mexico, China and Taiwan have shown a lot of interest which excites us and shows us the potential for expanding to other markets.
How do you view the innovation environment in Japan and Ili’s role in it?
After some difficult years, the innovation environment in Japan seems much better. There is still a long way to go before we can compare with environments such as the Bay area. Nevertheless, Ili aims to lead the Japanese startup ecosystem by creating innovative products that do not yet exist. The public’s response to our products has been quite positive in Japan. Our first launch event in Tokyo in January in 2017 was very successful and got covered by distinguished media in Japan. Moreover, one of the biggest subway companies and a major retail company in Japan have shown their interest in trying out our product.
Find more analysis articles & interviews in our 2017 Innovation, Technology & IP Report.