Army's iPod translator to be available for consumers

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- The February issue of "National Defense" magazine reports on the use of iPod software that speaks Arabic and Kurdish and enables soldiers to communicate with locals. What's new: The software will soon be available for civilian travelers.

The Soldier's iPods run an application called VCommunicator, which soldiers use to play phrases in Arabic (or Kurdish), study missions, read maps and do other tasks as they hunt for insurgents.

For example, soldiers can show Iraqi citizens a photo of a terrorist, and the iPod says in Arabic, "have you seen this person?"

Another part of the application plays a wide catalog of useful phrases, and a character on the screen shows appropriate hand gestures to go with it.

These phrases are combined into "missions." For example, soldiers can open the "checkpoint mission," and all the phrases, images, gestures and other data useful for communicating with drivers at a checkpoint are listed.

Soldiers can also connect the iPods to a speaker or a megaphone, and communicate to crowds or groups.

iPods, especially iPod nanos, are ideal because they're cheap (by Pentagon procurement standards), lightweight and the soldiers already know how to use them.

All this was reported elsewhere last year. What's new in the "National Defense" article is that the company that makes the software, Vcom3D, plans to ship a consumer version this year, which tourists can use to communicate in foreign countries.

Presumably you'll be able to open, say, a "restaurant mission" in French that lists all the things you'll need to communicate while ordering dinner.

This sounds like a spectacularly useful application, especially since many of us already travel with our iPods.

I'll report on that application in this space when it comes out, so stay tuned!

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