Photo/IllutrationAn interpretation device for health-care workers under development (Naoyuki Himeno)

  • Photo/Illustraion

An interpreting device specially designed for health-care workers and non-Japanese patients is under development in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) and Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd. expect their interpreter to be marketed by the end of this fiscal year.

The equipment can interpret expressions referring to various types of pain, such as “shiku shiku” (nagging) and “zuki zuki” (throbbing), as well as technical terms used in the medical industry, according to officials.

The device had been tested at 21 medical centers across Japan until the end of March.

In late March, Maiko Imuta, 36, a nurse at Yonemori Hospital in Kagoshima, asked a female patient in her 60s from Beijing to “show medicine you take now” in Japanese. The device put on Imuta’s chest immediately interpreted her words into Chinese.

When the patient replied, her response was quickly interpreted into Japanese.

The University of Tokyo Hospital is assisting in the development of the device, based on the NICT’s VoiceTra speech translation app.

Jargon and explanations of health conditions were added to make it more user-friendly.

Although the interpreter is now only geared for English and Chinese speakers, the number of languages will be raised to 10 by 2020.

According to the officials, the product can deal with sentences that are difficult to interpret through conventional devices, such as “Choroidal detachment could occur as a complication” and “Meningitis often occur with no infectious diseases in other extrapulmonary sites.”

Hundreds of thousands of technical terms and expressions are only used in the health-care industry, and it is necessary to have the device program learn all those words and sentences, the officials said.

“It would be unacceptable if misinterpretations cause any disadvantage to patients,” said Eiichiro Sumita, a fellow at the NICT. “The development takes much time because we are carefully designing the device.”