Travis the Translator: Breaking down language barriers

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Eric Berkhinfand

There’s no question that humans are one of the most unique species on Planet Earth. But what about us makes us uniquely human? 

Well, anthropologists have been studying this for hundreds of years to try and answer this question. And while there are many different qualities and traits that make us uniquely human, one of the most prominent and self-evident ones is our ability to communicate and use language.

Humans can convey complex thoughts, ideas, and feelings. In fact, language gives us the ability to essentially express any thought we could ever think.

However, languages have one major flaw; you can’t communicate with someone who speaks a different language to you. And when you factor in that there are around 6,500 languages being spoken today, and that half the population only speaks one language, you can see how this can be an issue.  

That’s where a product like Travis The Translator (or just Travis for short) comes in. Travis is a pocket translator that can translate over 100 languages on the fly. It’s helping people all across the world break down language barriers and communicate.

To date, Travis has raised over 2.3 million dollars on Indigogo — proving that there is a real demand for a dedicated translation device.

We spoke with General Manager, Simon Derbaix, to learn about how Travis works, some of its interesting use cases (sometimes life-saving), and how Metorik has been helping them grow their eCommerce presence.

Pocket Translators? I thought my phone could do that.

In a world where international travel becomes more accessible by the day, language barriers become more prominent. Many of us find even ourselves needing to communicate with others who speak a different language — sometimes on a daily basis. 

Ironically, as the world becomes more connected, individually we become more disconnected.

So the problem is clear; but if I’m honest, I thought it had already been solved? Everyone has a smartphone, and basically, every smartphone has some translation capability. 

Well, not quite…

While smartphones are able to translate many languages, the problem is that they just use 1 translation engine — one of the most prominent being Google Translate. Each individual translation engine might only be good at translating one language (or a few at best); Baidu is good at translating Chinese, Yandex for Russian, and Google for English, German, Spanish and French.

What this means is that the translations we are getting on our phones are not always the best translations possible. In a similar sense, a photo taken on a phone will never be comparable to a photo taken on a DSLR.

That’s where Travis comes in. 

Travis, the device that speaks all languages.

So by this point it should be clear, Travis isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it’s about making the wheel more efficient and accurate.

To do this they have 20 different translation engines onboard their devices working in tandem to support over 100 different languages. In addition, they have built an AI language algorithm that checks which translation engine is best for a certain language pairing. The algorithm is constantly running and checking to see which if an engine has been updated, and if it’s best for a certain pairing of languages. 

"With Travis, you have 20 Engines in your pocket and you can be sure that the translation you get is the best one available right now."

Travis Touch GO, their latest device, comes with built-in eSIM connectivity, Wifi and the option to insert your own SIM card. And if you find yourself in a pinch with no internet, there are a few limited onboard languages available as well.

Translating with Travis is very simple as you would expect. Just simply select your 2 languages, and let Travis do the rest.


My initial reaction was to look at this product from a B2C perspective; I pictured myself using it when travelling. But Travis’ true impact and potential is most evident when you look at its B2B use-cases, for example:

  • For negotiation in international business deals.
  • For foreign governments to be able to communicate with each other.
  • In prisons, so that the guards can communicate with inmates that don’t speak the local language.
  • In the emergency department at a hospital when a patient doesn’t speak the local language. In this situation, Travis can be a potentially life-saving device.

Just from these examples, you can start to see why businesses and governments are willing to pay for a dedicated, reliable and accurate translation device. 

The team at Travis have also set up the Travis Foundation with the aim of developing lesser resourced languages as a means to both close the language inequality gap and preserve culture. $2.50 from every Travis device is donated to the Travis Foundation.

Their first big project was to digitize Tigrinya, a language spoken in Eritrea. It’s an ongoing project, with the final aim of the language being used in Travis translators (and others, as it is open-source).

"There are over half a billion Eritrean refugees in Europe alone and one of the primary languages, Tigrinya, has no digital copy. This means it cannot be Googled, translated, incorporated into technology and improved with AI."

Travis’ Stack

WooCommerce

With a large amount of traffic and multilingual and multi-currency requirements, WordPress/WooCommerce was the obvious choice for Tavis.

Simon said that it was already built on WooCommerce before he started at the company but that he would have made the same decision.

"Magento is too complicated for a tiny company like ours and Wix is too simple."

WooCommerce has been extremely easy for Simon to use, even though he isn’t a developer. 

However, in the same breath, he also said that they require a dev to make any bigger changes to the site. For example, “getting free shipping for carts over $99, but a flat fee for anything under isn’t as easy to set up as it sounds.”

Also as a multi-currency store, the native reporting for that “was hell”.

Metorik

Metorik allowed Simon to solve the issues he was having with multi-currency reporting. Metorik makes multi-currency reporting quick and easy by converting all orders in other currencies to the main currency of your store. This is done on the fly and with the most up to date FX rate.

Simon told us that he remembers setting up Metorik and saying to his girlfriend “this is the best piece of software I have ever used.”

"I don’t remember the Metorik onboarding step-by-step, but I do remember being mind-blown at how well it worked and how beautiful it was. And I’m still as excited about Metorik 1 year later."

Metorik has really helped Simon get a better grasp on who their customers are. And they even use it as a CRM.

They also get value out of our Metorik Engage by having both abandoned cart emails to recover lost customers, and post-purchase emails to keep existing customers engaged.

After placing an order, a customer will receive a welcome email with instructions on how to use their Travis.

In true translator fashion, they have their welcome emails written in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German. The customer will receive the email in a certain language based on the shipping country they select. “If you ship to Germany, the odds that you speak German are quite high.”

They also have another email which is sent out to customers that bought a Travis but didn’t buy an accessory. This email is sent with a unique coupon code to try and encourage a cross-sale.

The team at Travis also use our digest feature, which at the time of the interview was our old system. Since then, we have launched our new versions of the digests, which allows users to completely customise their email reports with any metrics.

Concluding Thoughts - Réflexions finales - Заключительные мысли - おわりに - Slotgedachten

Creating a niche piece of hardware like a pocket translator is an extraordinary challenge. But the team at Travis have proven that with the right plan, the right people, and the right product, it’s a challenge that is achievable. 

For anyone else trying to launch a hardware product, Travis is a company to learn from.

We wish the team much success and hope to see Travises in the hands of many more people in years to come.

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