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Universal translator is here, allegedly

You too can be Captain Picard — sort of

We're not sure whether to believe this or not but it seems that someone has invented Star Trek's universal translator.

Lingo software and electronic dictionary maker Ectaco is due tomorrow to start shipping its UT-103 speech-to-text-to-speech translation device, a handheld computer that, in theory, can recognise a phrase in English, for example, translate it and then 'speak' the translated phrase aloud.

It's limited to 3,000 phrases, but these would be more than enough for a short trip abroad. The UT-103 is capable of translating phrases it knows into French, German or Spanish.

Because PC Advisor hasn't yet had the pleasure of attempting the Monty Python 'Hungarian phrasebook' sketch yet, we have no idea whether the machine is capable of saying 'My hovercraft is full of eels'. But as soon as we do, we'll let you know.

Ectaco's unit is based on a Toshiba 32bit, 75MHz processor and 2MB RAM. According to the firm there are 14 thematic categories for foreign language interaction, including approximately 3,000 'phrases and expressions which would be used in hotels, banks, post offices, stores, restaurants, hospitals, beauty salons and other places one would visit while travelling'.

Size is 63.5x24x112mm and the UT-103 weighs 110g. It appears to be roughly the same size as an Iomega HipZip/Click drive.

It's not quite as effortless as being Jean-Luc Picard though — you'll need to select a language, then the topic area, such as 'hotels', then the subtopic, such as Reservations, then speak your English phrase. The UT-103 will then theoretically show the translation on its display, and if needed will 'say' the translation in the chosen language.

Preorder prices are $249.95 over the web, which equates to around £170.

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