Translation Device for customs

Videoprototype, WS1213

Our Translation Device for customs is an interactive surface, built to help customs officials communicating with passengers. It consists of two touchscreens and a PC with a database of often used sentences in several languages. After specifying the language of the passenger the official can select questions which appear on the passenger’s screen.

During our research phase at the customs department at Munich airport we heard that difficulties to communicate with people who don’t speak German or English are the most common problem the employees have to deal with on a day to day basis. At the moment they either ask colleagues who happen to know other languages for help or use self-made cards containing the most important phrases.

The system provides predefined questions for the official to ask, which are automatically translated to the passenger’s language. Furthermore it provides possibilities for the passenger to answer them, allowing a dialog between them for the usual checks they do. The official sees the answers and navigates through the questions offered or can type in his own.

The device aims to decrease the time and effort needed for checks, both on the passenger’s as well as on the official’s side. Another possible positive effect is minimizing the passenger’s fear of the customs check and its officials. Lastly, usage of this system may lead to an improved image of the customs within the travelers.


Since the system runs on a normal PC, there are near endless possibilities for expanding it. Our favourite idea was a barcode and RFID-Scanner, the former to quickly scan the name and price of an object, allowing quick price checks, the latter to authenticate to the system and scan biometric passports easing the language selection.

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