More smartphones could soon be headed to Kandahar, Baghdad or other hotspots where U.S. Troops can use a little technological assistance - not to be able to Tweet or check for the latest news from their brigade on Wikileaks - but for communicating with the locals.
DARPA - the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - perhaps best known for creating a little thing called the Internet, has been testing three voice recognition and translation technologies for use by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the bureaucratically-named project TRANSTAC.
Judging by a video from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) , which has been conducting "performance evaluations" for speech translation technologies for the past few years, at least one of the systems appears to be running on a Google Nexus One mounted with some sort of microphone and/or speaker attachment.
According to NIST project manager Craig Schlenof, all the new TRANSTAC systems work in a similar fashion:
An English speaker talks into the phone. Automatic speech recognition distinguishes what is said and generates a text file that software translates to the target language. Text-to-speech technology converts the resulting text file into an oral response in the foreign language. This process is reversed for the foreign language speaker.
NIST says that currently the project is focused on Pashto, one of the national languages of Afghanistan, but work is also being done in Dari, the country's other official language, and Iraqi Arabic.
NIST used Marines experienced in Afghanistan to test the technologies in 25 different scenarios, including vehicle checkpoints; communication of key information, such as how long electricity will be available each day; facility inspections; medical assessments; and Afghani-U.S. military training exercises. The results of the tests will be forwarded on to DARPA, which will decide if it wants to fund and deploy any of the technologies.
Image courtesy NIST