Waverly Labs is no stranger to crowdfunding circles, only three years removed from producing the most successful hearable campaign the space has ever seen.
After raising an unprecedented $4,426,011 with its Pilot wireless translation earbuds, though, thoughts of how it would deal with the prospect of the difficult second album have lingered in the background since the earbuds began rolling out. We've seen communities build around a startup before, so was it realistic to imagine lightning striking twice in the Brooklyn-based company's follow-up?
Essential reading: We take translation earbuds on a date
Well, for as successful as Pilot was in pre-sales, and despite managing fairly steady rounds of shipments in the face of the wild demand, language translators, still in their infancy, are far harder to drum up enthusiasm for than smartwatches or run-of-the-mill wireless earbuds ‚Äď a market Apple AirPods already appears to have locked up.
The Ambassador's design differs greatly from the Pilot translation earbuds
So, instead of rolling out Pilot 2.0 and focusing on basic features, like improved audio and better battery life, the outfit is doubling down on its language translation smarts with the Ambassador. The around-ear design is new, and the current campaign ‚Äď currently live on Indiegogo ‚Äď has, at the time of writing, managed to triple its $70,000 funding target with more than two weeks left to run.
"We were honestly blown away by the interest we received in Pilot," Waverly Labs CEO Andrew Ochoa told Wareable. "We believed we'd created an innovative and useful device, and that was confirmed with the outpouring of support at launch.
"As Ambassador is more of a prosumer device, rather than a purely consumer device, we do expect there to be a difference in the two campaigns, as we're targeting business customers, as well as individuals. The strong interest in Pilot and the community we've built provides an excellent spring board to reach newer audiences, we believe."
Ochoa notes that the groundwork for Ambassador has been laid for around 18 months, with the company taking feedback from its customers and improving its translation technology alongside, even as Pilot was shipping to backers.
"We believe the over-the-ear design allows for more hygienic sharing, greater translation accuracy and the three modes really allow people to receive quick and accurate translations in any environment ‚Äď that's what we wanted to encapsulate into a new device," he said.
"When we connected with Pilot users and conducted our research over the last 18 months, we found that consumers really want a translation device that's easy to share and clean. The new design allows users to share the interpreter easily with peers and colleagues, and we also added the capability for multiple units to be paired to one smartphone to make things easier."
We found that consumers really want a translation device that's easy to share and clean
There's also the more practical design elements of having a larger device. With more surface area to build into, Ochoa notes there's now a larger microphone array and a stronger antenna within the device, all feeding into the Ambassador's aim of increasing the fluidity of translated conversations.
It all appears to be an attempt to solidify its name as the go-to in the field. When we last caught up with the Ochoa and the company, Google Pixel Buds had been in the field for six months, while rival devices, like the MyManu Clik, were trailing behind in rollouts. The company is still as confident in its technology now, and the language translation space as a whole, as it was then ‚Äď despite Google appearing to have lost interest in its one-time hearable and startups like Bragi exiting the consumer space.
"I think as with any new category, it takes time for devices to be refined and for consumers to adopt the new innovations. Over the last few years, we‚Äôve seen growth in the translation space and products have become more refined and useable. We hope with the launch of Ambassador we'll see even more adoption of wearable translators, and bring the same level of success to professional sectors," Ochoa said.
Reading the room
It's not just the design that Waverly Labs hopes will entice more users into the space, either, with a fundamental change in how the translation takes places arriving through Ambassador. Instead of two modes, like on Pilot, there are now three to choose from: Listen, Converse and the all-new Lecture mode.
Listen mode lets users listen for a selected language within 8 feet of the device, automatically translating into their native tongue. Converse, meanwhile, allows two wearers to have a two-way conversation more naturally, with each able to set the languages they want to be detected and received.
Lecture, instead, broadcasts the words of a speaker to multiple people in a group setting, capturing what someone says and streaming audio translations to multiple smartphones. And it's in the professional sector where the startup sees the opportunity of this mode.
"Through our feedback, we found that a major need for translators, especially in business settings, is in group presentations and meetings. Lecture mode will fill this void, expand our audience reach and allow organisations and universities to work on an international level with more ease.
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"As technology continues to develop, it is becoming easier for companies and institutions to work and expand their reach internationally. In order to make international business and education truly seamless, people need to be able to communicate easily without language barriers."
It's quite the pivot in the company's target audience. Don't forget, the Pilot's initial promo video held an emphasis on how the earbuds could be used as a tool to communicate and perhaps even find love through.
However, what this really shows us is the evolution the company has gone through since that first campaign. It's now leaning more towards enterprise, universities and beyond, which, really, is where the future of language translation lies.
That doesn't necessarily rule Waverly Labs' wares out from being used by the likes of travellers, but this kind of use will be few and far between, as opposed to an entire classroom or board room relying on and centring around the Ambassador.
And while it may not be as glamorous, it is more likely to cement Waverly Labs as the biggest player in the game. That's the hope, anyway.