DIY Interpretation system

Day 3 of re-runs …

When you are a small start-up you sometimes have to color outside the lines in order to get those foundation accounts. I don’t know if watching all those episodes of McGyver influenced the way I look at the world, but I am quite good at gluing things together.

I was recently challenged by a customer to come up with a way to connect interpreters in one city with listeners that were geographically distributed across the country. I had been doing alot of work with an open source phone system called Freeswitch and I recognized that it had a very functional API. I put the system together in a way that allowed the interpreters to be located at any of the locations, but in actual fact, they were always located at the corporate headquarters.

Every freeswitch system has a built in conference capability and you can tell the conference to call any remote location over the Internet or via the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) using the system’s API. I wrote a simple Java program to talk to the API that presented the users with a grid of buttons to represented the remote locations. When the Interpreters start the meeting they select the buttons for the cities that wish to receive the translated audio feeds.

When the Interpreter presses the button the local Freeswitch system tells all of the separate language conferences to make VoIP calls to specific extensions on the remote systems that have been set to auto-answer. Rather than use phones, I use the sound card as the target extensions. At the HQ I connect the output from the Interpreters amplifier to the input of the sound card. At each remote location, I connect the outputs from the sound card to an IR or FM transmitter. Remote listeners pick up a wireless receiver for the appropriate language when they enter the room.

There is one conference for each language being translated which dials a different extension at each remote location. This does require a multi-channel audio card but they are not difficult to find. I used a Delta 1010LT that has 8 input and 8 output channels. You need as many remote transmitters as you have languages. The wireless remote receivers are usually multi-channel units with a selector that allows the user to switch between languages. In this case English and French were the only two languages required but there is no limit to the design.

So with a flexible open source phone system, a bit of java code, and the Internet you can have a distributed Interpretation system that can connect users around the world over the Internet. The system uses wide band CODEC’s for great quality audio and once it’s in place, the only cost if your monthly Internet connection.

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