Last updated: 03:30 PM ET, Fri November 06 2015

Tech Of The Week: Waygo App Revolutionizes Travel in Asia

Travel Technology | Gabe Zaldivar | November 06, 2015

Tech Of The Week: Waygo App Revolutionizes Travel in Asia

Photo via Waygo Facebook

There you are, a world traveler in Tokyo about to dive into the local cuisine but haven’t the slightest clue as to what the menu means. If only you could wave a magic wand over the sheet to transform all the items into English.

Well, if you are fine replacing a magic wand for a smartphone, you are in luck. Waygo essentially turns you from muggle to wizard with the specific power of taking menus in Japan, China and Korea and making them readable to English speakers.

TravelPulse had the opportunity to speak with Waygo’s creator and CEO Ryan Rogowski who explained a bit more on an app that we will place in the crucial category for those heading to the region.

First, the specifics for the uninitiated: The app allows you to quickly and easily read text in, thus far, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

Now this is so far limited to items like menus and signs, but that solves one huge issue that might arrive with travelers who don’t speak or read a lick of the local dialect.

Here is a brief video that takes that sentiment and ramps it up a few notches:

The app is available in both Android and iOS. You get 10 free daily translations, but can unlock unlimited translations for $6.99.

As you can see from the above video, the value is obvious. This will give you a quick glimpse of what’s on the menu or some clue as to what that well lit street sign is warning you about.

And it was borne out of need. Rogowski tells us that Waygo “evolved out of my own experience in Asia.”

The founder who has a background in iPhone development, linguistics and image processing explains from Japan: “I lived in Beijing for a little over a year. When I first arrived there I spoke almost no Chinese, so you could imagine I couldn’t read any characters.”

Rogowski continues, “I still remember the first time I went to a Chinese restaurant, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted. I fumbled around and asked the waitress who didn’t speak any English what I should eat. She pointed at something and when I got it, it was Kung Pao Chicken. (I figured) I’m just going to eat this for a while.”

Even the most delectable Kung Pao gets old, so the idea to start something new was hatched. “Eventually I wanted to explore and stop getting lost,” Rogowski offers.

Actually, he offered a funny little story that really illustrates how important an app like Waygo can be while traveling around a country, attempting to discover new treats.

The Waygo creator, between chuckles, delves into a brief anecdote: “One (experience) I had recently, It’s called Monja (monjayaki). It’s in Japan and it’s like this really fun weird thing where you cook the food in front of you but it turns into this sort of omelet pie. It’s a common thing in Tokyo, but it was a restaurant I went to and they had this thing called monja and I had no idea what it was. But there were actually instructions on how to do it. But they were all in Japanese.”

Rogowski went on to explain what sounds like a delicious but convoluted dish that mandates the diner get to work. Ah, but there was help in tech form: “It was actually really cool because I used Waygo to follow the instructions with it.”

Now you might be familiar with similar tech available via Google Translate. Rogowski offered a couple ways in which Waygo differs both in offline capability and speed: “One is the offline use case, especially for Asian languages. The other one is with Google you aren’t able to do the real-time (searches). You actually have to take a picture; it gets sent up to the Internet and you do Internet queries with the camera. Whereas Waygo is literally just wave it over and it’s magically replacing the text.”

Here is a video from Waygo that illustrates that point:

We chatted for a bit longer, delving into what might be next for Waygo: “We’ve been working to find launch partners within Asia. For westerners traveling to China and Japan Waygo’s become fairly popular.”

“But for a Chinese traveler going to Japan, that’s still a market we are hoping to go after. But that would be easier (to address) with a partner,” was one reply Rogowski had to what was pending.

Also, a possibility for 2016 is translation capabilities for travel in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Thailand.

But the truly remarkable thought came when Rogowski looked far into the future for an awesome hypothetical: “With augmented reality eyewear being probably a next platform, the dream is the ability to put on your slick looking glasses and then just introduce the Japanese language to you in your own language.”

He pondered, “How cool would that be?”

Very cool. Very cool indeed.


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