In May 2016 (and again in July 2016) blogs were abuzz with news about Waverly Labs’ “Pilot” earpiece, which purportedly enables users separated by a language barrier to converse using the device and a smartphone:
Many articles described Waverly Labs’ “Pilot” as if it was already in existence, extolling its functions and often suggesting a September 2016 ship date:
Called Pilot[,] Waverly Labs is calling it the “world’s first translation earpiece”—the device is due to launch in September and features two earpieces and an app. Two users both wear a bluetooth earpiece and they can then speak to one another in different languages and each will hear it in their native tongue.
It works in near real-time although Ochoa has said it lags behind Skype Translator, the most impressive language translator out at the moment, which translates voice and video calls in real-time. Pilot does its work without having to be online though.
Users can choose between what languages they want using the app, at the moment it translates French, Spanish, Italian, and English.
This is the first generation of this tech but once it launches future iterations will include more languages. Waverly Labs also hopes to eventually bring out versions where the device will only need to listen to the world around it and then translate that, meaning no ear pieces.
We looked through Waverly Labs’ web site to see if any of the most basic questions were answered about the Pilot device: whether it existed in prototype form, for instance. As of 22 July 2016, the latest update to the company’s blog was dated 16 May 2016 and promised more details would be provided “soon”:
This has been an incredible weekend – we’ve have over 6.5M views on facebook and 145,000 shares! We really can’t say how happy we are for the encouragement we’ve had from everyone, so really, thank you for spreading the word.
We’ve spent a long time working on this and we’re so thrilled to see that people actually want to be on this journey with us. Some of the stories we’ve received have been wonderful!
We are going to release a new video on our blog and answer all of your questions. We’ll answer questions such as: Where are we in the development stage? When will the Pilot will be ready for pre-order and delivery? Which languages are supported? What are the details on the early bird pricing and who are the contest winner(s)?
AND also, we’ll outline specifics on how the Pilot actually works. Also, if we haven’t answered your email or facebook message/comment, please forgive us – we’re doing our best to keep up.
On 17 May 2016, a Forbes contributor published a piece skeptical about the project and its promises. The author described an initial media frenzy and subsequent unexpected phone call with one of the device’s creators:
Cue a dialogue about the technology, marketing scam the press it has cultivated without any official word from the creators and the general smell of the idea. Was it a smart move by the team? Lazy journalism? I reached out expecting nothing (as many outlets had requested the same thing and been denied or not heard back)… until the CEO agreed to a call.
The author appeared more skeptical (rather than less) after speaking with CEO Andrew Ochoa (misspelled as “Ochea” throughout) and concluded:
When I asked how his team had created this seemingly miraculous tool in about a tenth of the time it has taken people like Skype to develop similar technology Ochea had this to say; “[Pilot] is using very standard models of speech translation, you’ve got three major technologies working in tandem, speech recognition, machine translation and voice synthesis. We are repackaging and combining it with wearable technology to create this new paradigm.” This sounded like spin to me but I let Ochea continue which was when some backtracking began…; “We’re building a hybrid system. Some of it’s licensed and some we’ve built ourselves. We don’t want to make any promises or references that this is incredibly real-time or that we could give you an earpiece and drop you off in the middle of Tokyo. That is not what we’re trying to convey at all.”
Again I pressed Ochea on the hybrid technology area and the video they put out which caused further backtracking and clarification … I then asked Ochea about development which caused further backtracking; “It’s definitely in the late alpha stage. There’s still a lot of testing … we don’t want any comparison to Babel Fish. We didn’t expect the level of virality that we received.”
I remained dubious … Ochea continued; “We didn’t know if anyone would really we interested in it.” Alarm bells went off when this was said so I pressed him on this because no-one spends the amount of time Ochea and his team has spent on something they don’t think anyone would be interested in (nor something that has been so obsessed about and is already ‘out there’), that’s either massively naive or a lie … I’m not sure. Pilot would be brilliant technology but the backtracking and [ambiguous] launch have me extremely skeptical. A new video is due out tomorrow that is currently being cut or as I suspect recut to possibly play down expectations the original round of press has generated.
No videos emerged after the Forbes piece as promised, and the last video upload by Ochoa was on 10 May 2016. The device was over 3,000 percent funded on Indiegogo at more than 2.6 million dollars as of 25 June 2016, but it remains unclear whether an actual working prototype of a Pilot actually exists. (“Design prototypes” were mentioned on the company’s timeline.)
Waverly Labs’ Pilot wasn’t the first device of questionable authenticity to create a viral stir, only to vanish. A much-ballyhooed Cicret smartphone companion garnered an avalanche of attention, but showed no proof of a working prototype. And in the realm of software, a controversial Peeple app took over social media in the summer of 2015 but failed to materialize.