updated 02:50 pm EDT, Wed August 6, 2008
iPod as Army translator
The US military has found a new way for soldiers to use Apple's iPod. With the help of a new software product, VCommunicator Mobile, and a speaker that plugs into a headphone jack, soldiers are now able to use an iPod as a communication device. VCommunicator is filled with basic phrases in other languages that can help soldiers ask for "yes/no" answers, or directions. Soldiers are supplied with protective covers for the iPod and speaker, and velcro straps allowing both devices to be easily attached to an arm. Soldiers who spend long periods of times out in the field are also supplied with a solar charger.
The product was developed by the 10th Mountain Division, which has been using 260 of these specially-equipped iPods for the last year. The Army is said to worked on similar translation devices since 2001, but all of these have so far required a notebook or PDA. The VCommunicator Mobile approach exploits the fact that many troops already own an iPod, and know how to operate it.
The Army has spent over $800,000 on the new software, and has localized it for several different languages, including Iraqi Arabic, Kurdish, Dari and Pushto. The app also includes video along with its audio clips, displaying phrases on-screen, or else a video of a solider making appropriate hand gestures. This is said to be particularly important in Arabic.
It costs $2,000 to install just one language onto an iPod, and each one takes up 4GB of space, limiting the number that can be installed at any one time. Soldiers can however update or reorganize their libraries with an editing tool on a notebook.