22 March 2004

U.S. Marines Rely on Translation Devices

Gregg K. Kakesako reports in Sunday's Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
Breaking the language barrier: Two tools help Marines communicate instantly in dozens of languages

The Marines have two types of universal voice translator devices to communicate with Iraqis about anything from searching vehicles to giving medical aid.

Shujie Chang, director of experimental projects at Marine Forces Pacific, said the devices are meant to help Marines who are now being sent to all corners of the world.

"You can take these devices," Chang said, "into any country and they are a means to communicate with the local population."

However, both voice translation devices are only one-way, where the commands or questions are made in English and then translated. Both rely on a pre-programmed lists of phrases.

The Phraselator P2 is the size of hefty personnel digital assistant, with a three-by-four-inch LCD display screen. It is manufactured by VoxTec, a subsidiary of Marine Acoustics Inc. in Newport, R.I.

The Voice Response Translator was developed 10 years ago for law enforcement officials and is basically a portable computer that attaches to a police officer's belt. It was designed, said Timothy McCune, president of Integrated Wave Technologies, to keep the hands of the police officer free.
Aaargh. Better than nothing, I suppose. But not by much.

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