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Kupu: The Spark, Te Aka and Google-powered photo app that can teach te reo Māori

Te Wiki o te reo Māori is here. And while a number of businesses and organisations are doing innovative things to keep te reo Māori alive, Spark, Te Aka and Google’s new app is a game changer. Meet Kupu.

It’s safe to say a fair bit of ink has been spilled at Idealog covering innovative technologies to help te reo Māori not only survive, but thrive. For instance, there’s ReoBot, the AI-powered chatbot, Tākaro Tribe, the cartoon that uses imaginative stories to teach Te Reo to kids and adults alike, Titan Ideas’ augmented reality (AR) app Zippy’s 3D Colouring app, the world’s first AR-enabled Māori alphabet colouring book and even Grabity, a video game that can help spread Te Reo. Oh, and we can’t forget the famed Pipi Mā, the world’s first Māori speaking dolls. The list goes on.

Now we can add Kupu to the list – and we have Spark, Te Aka and Google to thank.
 

To coincide with Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, Spark and Te Aka have launched an interactive mobile app powered by Google that helps people learn Te Reo translations by exploring the objects around them. Essentially, Kupu – which can be directly translated to mean “word” – works via machine learning. Users simply take a picture, and Kupu uses image recognition to identify what is in the picture and provide te reo Māori translations for what is seen.
 

Lisa Paraku, Spark business manager – Māori, says the idea is for everyone in Aotearoa to have a tool in their pocket to help them learn Te Reo. “We see the Māori language and culture as special and unique to New Zealand, so we want to play a small role in helping te reo Māori prosper through the use of digital platforms,” says Paraku. “It has been very humbling to work with a project team of technology experts and trusted Māori advisors to create an app which will add to the growing plethora of resources that support the revitalisation of our national taonga – te reo Māori.”

Paraku says more. “Te Aka Māori Dictionary have brought mana and a pool of invaluable knowledge which has guided the project from concept through to creation, and having Google on board means we were able to rely on state of the art technology to make Kupu a reality.”

Dr Dean Mahuta, a senior lecturer at AUT and Māori language researcher at Te Ipukarea, the National Māori Language Institute, has been a key advisor on the Kupu project, helping to ensure Kupu showcases te reo Māori correctly. “Using technology and digital platforms is a great way to encourage the use and learning of te reo Māori. Te Aka Māori Dictionary has over 300,000 visitors to its website per month, with over 50 percent of those visitors being new users,” says Mahuta. “There are some amazing resources for learning te reo Māori, including books, websites and apps. However, this is the first learning tool to translate pictures in real-time. It’s an evolution of the resources that are out there. We hope Kupu will get everyone excited about exploring and learning te reo Māori, so we’re excited to share Kupu with New Zealand.”

To help identify objects and provide the correct translations, Kupu uses Google Cloud Vision backed by Te Aka Māori Dictionary data, and is powered by Google’s artificial intelligence technology. Explains Google creative director Tara McKenty: “We aim to inspire New Zealanders to explore te reo Māori and encourage them to add more Te Reo words to their everyday vocabularies. It would be amazing if, as a nation, we could learn together through an immersive interactive experience – one picture and translation at a time. Just learning a single word each day can collectively have a huge and lasting impact on our collective knowledge of te reo Māori.”

Of course, Kupu is made with Google technology that’s constantly learning and iterating in order to improve. The app can improve its existing translations with moderated. The project team is also working with Te Aka to increase the accuracy of Google Translate results for te reo Māori into other languages.

Kupu is available for download free from the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

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