LAS VEGAS — A guest shows up at a hotel but doesn’t speak English. What ensues is a long and complicated process that requires chasing down an employee who speaks the language, or a back-and-forth call with an operator.
A new capability for the Google Assistant and a partnership with hotels in Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco aims to put an end to that. Google on Tuesday unveiled a new Interpreter Mode for the Google Assistant, which turns devices like the Google Home Hub into a translator for people speaking different languages.
Starting today, concierges at Caesars Palace will be armed with Google Home Hubs ready to employ the new Interpreter Mode that can translate 27 languages. Google also has devices at the Hyatt in San Francisco and Dream Hotel in New York City.
“What we’re trying to aim for is for the technology to blend into the background, for people to be able to connect eye to eye and form a more personal connection,” said Vincent Lacey, a product manager at Google, in an interview at CES.
GeekWire got a demo of the technology at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. A concierge called up the Google Assistant with the phrase, “OK, Google, German interpreter.” The concierge then asked a question, which Google translated into German. That set off a German-English discussion with Phillip Klimke, manager of strategic partnerships for Google Assistant, about finding tickets to a show.
Interpreter Mode is an example of Google leveraging its strengths to bolster its digital assistant and the products it powers. Lacey said Google has more than a decade of machine translation experience to rely on for this new feature, which enables some pretty complex conversations. However, Lacey cautioned that it is still early days and things like medical conversations are still outside the Interpreter’s capabilities.
The hotel industry is clearly a target for digital assistants. Before Google had a deal with Caesars, Amazon was putting Alexa-powered devices in the Wynn. Startups like Roxy are also trying to overhaul the hotel industry with customizable smart speakers and digital assistants.
It’s easy to see a larger market that could take advantage of live translation capabilities on a touchscreen device like Home Hub. Anywhere people from around the world come together — airports, stadiums, museums, etc. — could be a target for Google.
For Google, the hotel partnerships are just a pilot program, for now. Company representatives demurred when asked about Google placing Home Hubs in every hotel room at Caesars.
“I think it really depends on how successful this pilot is, and looking closely at user experience in terms of guest satisfaction and how much this changes the game for them,” Lacey said of expansion. “But certainly, going wider and having greater impact on users is something we strive for.”