Microsoft has just unveiled a new real-time speech translation tool that appears inspired by something straight out of “Star Trek” — or at least designed to be more practical than the Babel fish in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

The tool in question is a new feature, currently in its early stages of development, that’s set to be launched in beta by Microsoft through an update to Skype, the company’s popular VOiP software.

Simply called Skype Translator, the upcoming feature was demoed at the inaugural Code Conference by Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Skype and Lync, and Diana Heinrichs, Microsoft’s Comunications Manager Social Enterprise and Market Strategy. Using the tool’s live speech translation capabilities, the two were able to communicate in real time, with Pall speaking in English and Heinrichs in German.

In a new blog post, Microsoft explains:

Skype Translator results from decades of work by the industry, years of work by our researchers, and now is being developed jointly by the Skype and Microsoft Translator teams. The demo showed near real-time audio translation from English to German and vice versa, combining Skype voice and IM technologies with Microsoft Translator, and neural network-based speech recognition. Skype Translator is a great example of why Microsoft invests in basic research. We’ve invested in speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning technologies for more than a decade, and now they’re emerging as important components in this more personal computing era.

Initially supporting a few languages, Skype Translator is scheduled to be launched before the end of the year as a beta app for Windows 8. It’s expected to eventually become available on other platforms, including iOS with the Skype for iPhone and Skype for iPad apps.