This year’s DARPATech conference is chock full of whiz-bang gizmos destined for the pages of Popular Mechanics. Tomorrow’s Soldier Today by Phil Carter describes a few, starting with the Phraselator:
Some of the displays show DARPA success stories — projects conceived by the research agency that have actually made it into production. One example is the Phraselator, a brick-sized one-way translation device designed for use by U.S. soldiers in countries where they don’t know the language and don’t have time to learn it. Each hand-held unit uses an SD card — the same one used by many digital cameras — that store up to 30,000 common phrases useful for law enforcement, first aid, or war-fighting. To make the device work, a soldier simply says a phrase (such as “Stop at this checkpoint”) into the device, and a few seconds later, the Phraselator repeats it in the chosen language — Urdu, Arabic, Pashto, and Korean are available, to name a few. So far, more than 600 of these devices have been shipped to American units in the field — including 15 programmed with Haitian dialects dispatched with U.S. troops to Haiti. (Listen to the Phraselator’s Arabic mode here.)
Of course, I can’t help but think of the old Doonesbury cartoons making fun of the Apple Newton’s handwriting recognition. Just how many ways could the Phraselator go wrong?
This next, related technology sounds mundane, yet interesting:
A similar program under development is the Rapid Tactical Language Training System, essentially a video game that allows soldiers to learn conversational Arabic in 80 hours of training. Players learn by negotiating various situations, like getting information from men at a cafe, and suffer negative repercussions in the game when they get a phrase or gesture wrong. So far, the system has been tested on college students at the University of Southern California, and future tests are planned on students at West Point and soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C.
They’re also showing off BLEEX.