In 2001, Noriyuki Matsuda, CEO of Sourcenext, realized a need—people wanted to be able to understand others when they didn’t speak the same language. He wanted to create a mechanism that could do this. But at the time, the hardware and software to make this happen didn’t exist. What he envisioned would eventually be known as Pocketalk.
By early 2020, Pocketalk launched their latest device. When COVID-19 hit the United States, the company started a relief program that donated 850 Pocketalk devices to first responders and health care providers on the front lines.
Matsuda talked with us about their relief program and how Pocketalk has helped so many across the country during this stressful time.
Why did Pocketalk feel it was needed to come up with a relief program?
Creating connections and enabling conversations is at the heart of why I founded Pocketalk. Before coming to the U.S., I saw people firsthand in Japan using Pocketalk to hold conversations in different languages and break down cultural barriers, reaffirming our need to take Pocketalk to the rest of the world.
Japan was one of the first countries affected by COVID-19. I started to think about the true mission of Pocketalk, after witnessing the impact the pandemic was having on our communities. And then, I saw the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined at Yokohoma, where Pocketalk helped staff members provide information and updates to concerned passengers quickly and accurately.
I wanted to—we had to—do more to help others during this time of need, and that is what led to the creation of our relief program.
We initiated the Relief Program in the U.S. in March because we knew we had the resources to be helpful for hospitals and first responders, and we wanted to give back during this global health crisis by providing translation services to those in most need. We set out to donate 600 Pocketalk Classic units to qualifying medical facilities, first responders, testing sites, and those in need of translation services. Units were given out on a first-come, first-served basis to those that applied through our website, with a maximum of three units per organization.
Over the course of just three weeks, the Pocketalk Relief Program saw widespread interest from all corners of the U.S. and officially donated more than 850 Pocketalks to qualifying applicants in 41 states to aid in the fight. We hope to be able to continue to give back to the medical community, especially during this time of great need.
Explain to our readers what Pocketalk is. How does it work? How many languages can it translate?
Pocketalk is a multi-sensory, two-way translation device. With a large touchscreen, noise-cancelling microphones and a text-to-translate camera, Pocketalk is able to create connections across 74 different languages. It’s equipped with high-quality, noise-cancelling microphones and two powerful speakers so it’s easy to have full conversations, even in noisy environments. The camera instantly recognizes and translates text, the written word, and signs. A large touch screen provides a text translation for additional clarity.
It seems that Pocketalk was initially designed for businesses/companies. Has it been used by health care workers from the start or did that come about because of the COVID-19 outbreak?
While we appeal to a variety of businesses and individuals who travel for both work and leisure, we knew we also have the technologies capable of helping many people in important industries to perform crucial day-to-day tasks. This includes teachers in our education system who work with students and parents who may not speak English as a first language, medical professionals and first responders who need quick, accurate translations on the job, and flight attendants who require translation services when assisting passengers.
Over the last few months as our world has changed, the need to share Pocketalk with health care professionals and first responders, as well as other industries, has grown immensely. Prior to COVID-19, Pocketalk was already in use at hospitals across Japan—including at the National Cancer Research Center and Ehime University General Hospital—to handle the influx of hospital visits by foreigners.
Pocketalk has also been increasingly used in the classroom by teachers and by volunteers in Minneapolis helping on the ground during recent protests and cleanup efforts. As these opportunities became more apparent, we wanted to do our part to give back to those making differences in their communities.
How has Pocketalk been helpful to first responders and medical professionals?
There are many beneficial features and aspects of Pocketalk offering critical value to medical professionals during the coronavirus outbreak. Our handheld translator is designed for accurate two-way communication at the touch of a button, reducing the time needed to communicate with patients. With the ability to translate 74 languages addressing 90% of the world’s population, Pocketalk also ensures that medical professionals can communicate with most, if not all, potential patients that come to their facilities in an emergency. While Pocketalk is able to support translation in emergencies, it can also be used by medical professionals to help with daily tasks, such as talking with family members of patients and communicating with patients who need assistance throughout the day, such as the need for an extra pillow or a meal.
Most importantly, Pocketalk eliminates the need for a human translator, reducing any human translators’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 and other contagious diseases. By dedicating ourselves to developing a product that is accurate, quick, and efficient in high-risk situations like those in the medical industry, we are trying to do our part to keep people safe and well-equipped to handle any translation challenges.
Do you have any anecdotes you can share about how they’ve made a difference?
After conducting our relief program, we did hear back from a number of members in the medical community about how Pocketalk has made a difference on the job after only a few weeks.
One respondent, an advanced emergency medical technician, told us that he was able to use Pocketalk to attend to and triage three different patients—who were native Vietnamese speakers and the other a native Spanish speaker. “What typically took 30 minutes, only took five minutes,” said the respondent.
An emergency medical specialist has spoken about Pocketalk’s immediate impact in the ER, noting how much easier it is now to talk with patients for quick reassessments and during critical moments without having to call a human translator. They said, “It’s in my whitecoat pocket on every shift.”
Is there anything else about Pocketalk or your relief program that you think is important for our readers to know?
As our world continues to tackle COVID-19, we are identifying other ways in which we can help other communities in other industries. Translation services are in higher demand right now not just within the medical community, but within other industries. Translators without Borders recently gave community organizations open access to their services, after receiving multiple requests from local organizations and nonprofits that need to translate information for their non-English speaking community members.
In addition to medical professionals, Pocketalk relief units were also given to members within other industries to help with translation needs. While most units were given to doctors and nurses in hospitals, a number of units were also given to workers in fire departments, law enforcement and pharmacies.
This is a time for us to come together as one voice made of many languages to help each other through the power of connection.
Starting now, medical professionals and first responders can purchase a Pocketalk Classic for $129 ($70 discount) using the special code MinorityNurse70 at discount–while supplies last.