Did you ever try to read a menu in a foreign language? Even if you speak some of that language, and understand the words, you might still have no idea what kind of dish they refer to.
As an example, we can look at things in the other direction. Imagine you’re coming from China, a country with a completely different kind of cuisine, and you read a menu in English. What the hell is rice pudding? Mac and cheese? We all know that “mash” means “mashed potatoes,” but even Google Translate won’t help you there.
That’s where MenuMe, an Android app, comes in. You point the phone’s camera at a menu and instead of translating, it finds a photo and shows it to you.
MenuMe was built recently at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY hackathon, so it’s not ready for the Google Play store just yet, but the principle is simple enough to be fairly robust. It doesn’t even need to translate anything—it just needs to recognize the text from your phone’s camera and run an image search on it. After that, MenuMe displays the images floating over the menu on your screen. The team’s original idea was to make an app that would scan the text in books and turn it into images, but they soon switched to menus, a much more practical idea.
There’s actually already an Android app with the same name, which shows you photos of the actual dishes from the menus of participating restaurants, but that only works if the restaurant, or somebody else, makes the pictures available, and isn’t much good for daily specials.
Of course, this augmented reality is only as good as the results of its image search. You might end up with some rather unappetizing versions of the dishes on the menu.