Apple iPod joins US Army

Apple’s iPod has been a successful translation tool for US soldiers deployed abroad, following a year’s testing among troops in the 10th Mountain Division.

VCommunicator Mobile is a translation engine that uses an iPod in order to offer soldiers a fast and accurate way to access an extensive library of phrases.

The software displays graphics, showing either the phrase in Arabic, or a video of a soldier making the appropriate hand gesture. There are collections of phrases for specific situations, like checkpoint, raid or patrol.

Over 700 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been testing 260 iPods enabled with the technology for the last year, reports military magazine, Strategy World – and at a cost of $800,000 initial reports are positive. (Troops also get a solar recharger for the system if they’re based in remote areas, incidentally).

Language modules (which cost $2,000 each and take up 4GB of space) include Iraqi Arabic, Kurdish, Dari and Pushto. The army has been developing translation solutions such as this one since 2001, but all the others have required a laptop of a PDA. 

The first year’s testing has ascertained that soldiers quickly acquire a vocabulary of phrases, and reports in the field saw local residents react with interest to this use of an iPod – they had iPods themselves.

The success of the trial means soldiers from the US 1st Cavary Division will be using the solution on their next deployment.

“It’s very useful in situations where you may have only one to two interpreters on the ground, and about 80 to 90 Soldiers on the ground, so you may not have enough interpreters to go around in a particular situation,” said Ernie Bright, one of the developers of the Vcommunicator, who gave the demonstration of the tool. “The real beauty of it is that the technology has been designed so that anyone who hasn’t had any training on it, can use it.”

At least in one sense this particular military implementation makes communication easier in a conflict zone.

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