U.S. Army increasingly using custom iPods as field translators

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014
Apple's iPod has been easing tensions with Iraqi citizens in a real-world experiment that has seen the music player provide on-the-spot translating for a fraction the cost and size of earlier systems.



Instead of carrying around a relatively bulky PDA or notebook, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division has for a year been using 260 iPods and iPod nanos modified to run a special app from Vcom 3D known as Vcommunicator Mobile.



The software takes advantage of the iPod's hierarchical menu system and scroll wheel to let soldiers sift through and select phrases in local dialects that match the situation at hand, such as a friendly meeting or to question a suspect. A speaker mounted on the headphone jack plays a voice sample of the sentence such that troops don't have to memorize the pronunciation themselves.



Little has been done to modify the iPod hardware; other than armbands and other accessories to dustproof the iPod and its speaker, Apple's media players are the same as those that left the factory. The Dock Connector on the bottom functions the same as it does for the reference player and permits speaker docks or most any accessory supported by the Cupertino original.



An iPod nano with Vcommunicator Mobile, armband and speaker for use in the field. | Image credits: U.S. Army.



By exploiting this familiarity to its advantage, Vcom 3D not only lowered the deployment cost versus earlier methods -- the complete development and equipment cost $800,000 -- but is said to have reduced the learning time both for the soldiers and the Iraqis it's meant to reach.



Although few American infantrymen can understand Iraqi responses without the help of a translator, the music player is not only intuitive for the Westerners but also, surprisingly, for the Iraqis who are already familiar with Apple's design. The iPod is less threatening and breaks down more of the cultural barriers the software is meant to overcome.



The year-long use by the 10th Mountain Division has been successful to such a degree that the U.S. Army is looking to expand the program to include the 1st Cavalry Division. The military wing will ship trial devices with three brigades about to leave for Iraq and may use the special iPods in a broader capacity if they prove useful during the division's operations. Their abilities to play photos and videos are already talked about as potentially useful for showing maps and other visual information to Iraqi residents.



Vcom 3D's wins further deepen Apple's involvement with the American military, which in recent months has grown to include native iPhone apps.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Apple's iPod has been easing tensions with Iraqi citizens in a real-world experiment that has seen the music player provide on-the-spot translating for a fraction the cost and size of earlier systems.





    Wouldn't an iPhone be an even better solution with its built-in speaker and bigger display?
  • Reply 2 of 50
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by the_steve View Post


    Wouldn't an iPhone be an even better solution with its built-in speaker and bigger display?



    Probably--or at least, an iPod Touch--but this program probably got its start pre-iPhone.



    Re Apple and ties to the military, don't forget Apple makes chips for missiles!

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles...ales_fall.html
  • Reply 3 of 50
    k.c.k.c. Posts: 60member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post




    Little has been done to modify the iPod hardware; other than armbands and other accessories to dustproof the iPod and its speaker, Apple's media players are the same as those that left the factory.



    Its speaker ?
  • Reply 4 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by the_steve View Post


    Wouldn't an iPhone be an even better solution with its built-in speaker and bigger display?



    Not to mention GPS. And the iPod app is easier to use than the click wheel iPod. They could get to their intended translations faster with the new version. And the touch has no spinning disks, so it would probably last longer in the fields of sand.
  • Reply 5 of 50
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    They need to give the Iraqi one that talks in English for his responses.
  • Reply 6 of 50
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,951member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by technohermit View Post


    Not to mention GPS. And the iPod app is easier to use than the click wheel iPod. They could get to their intended translations faster with the new version. And the touch has no spinning disks, so it would probably last longer in the fields of sand.



    Isn't the hard drive pretty well sealed inside the device?
  • Reply 7 of 50
    gongon Posts: 2,437member
    All communication is good.



    That said, Brits had a program in place for having their field troops learn basic Arabic three years ago, maybe more. That's what you do when you are serious, instead of playing with gadgets. The US is slowly getting similar training in gear - it has made headlines in 2008 - but it comes 2-3 years later than the Brits, and arguably five years too late overall.



    It was known well in advance that the mission would be all about occupation, not open battle. Communication is everything in counterinsurgency. Language training could, and should, have started before the war did.



    It's as if just coming in contact with another culture or language is considered some kind of sign of weakness or dishonor by the US Army. That sounds nuts, I know - I'd like to hear a better explanation for its behavior, if there is one.



    Just for instance, they put up their own road signs "Charlie Road" etc. in former Yugoslavia, right next to perfectly legible local signs with local names. Mind you, this was peacetime, no one shooting at them, and constant GPS access. Foreign troops of other nationalities drove around just fine using the local signs. It's not exactly rocket science. Sign says "Xywrgargle" and map says "Xywrgargle". It shouldn't even matter if you fail to recognize individual characters in the name (think cyrillic, or kanji), as long as they are the same on the sign and on the map.
  • Reply 8 of 50
    if they are using modified devises it means Stve gave the military the code.



    Steve, can you sell out anymore? Apple devises used by the US made in China.



    Are you on George Bush's payroll?



    What's next linking your GPS with the governments?



    Or have you already sold that and named it iSteve in honor of you?
  • Reply 9 of 50
    I've just tried to post this to AppleInsider and it was deleted immediately.



    I've uploaded the article below with my comments to iReport on CNN.com and let them know you censored my post immediately. I think it would be wise to keep this one.



    Steve has sold the iPhone techonology to the US Military. That means they can track all GPS phones at will.



    iPhones are made in China and sold to the US military. Is Steve on Bush's payroll?



    As CNN call's it. KEEPING THEM HONEST!
  • Reply 10 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by K.C. View Post


    It's speaker ?



    I think it means the speaker unit that's attached to the iPod by a cable.



    And by the way, the word *it's* means IT IS. The possessive form is *its* and like the other possessives it has no apostrophe (his/hers/yours/its).
  • Reply 11 of 50
    Steve has sold out America. Placed a military device in all our pocket's with GPS for unknown reasons.



    At least Bill left Microsoft to do philanthropy work (Work that save's lifes not kills them).



    U.S. Army increasingly using custom iPods as field translators.



    I posted this to iReport on CNN to Keep Apple Honest. How safe do you feel now.



    It's a wonder Steve is a paranoid ego centric lunatic. He's on Bush's payroll.



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    Apple's iPod has been easing tensions with Iraqi citizens in a real-world experiment that has seen the music player provide on-the-spot translating for a fraction the cost and size of earlier systems.



    Instead of carrying around a relatively bulky PDA or notebook, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division has for a year been using 260 iPods and iPod nanos modified to run a special app from Vcom 3D known as Vcommunicator Mobile.



    The software takes advantage of the iPod's hierarchical menu system and scroll wheel to let soldiers sift through and select phrases in local dialects that match the situation at hand, such as a friendly meeting or to question a suspect. A speaker mounted on the headphone jack plays a voice sample of the sentence such that troops don't have to memorize the pronunciation themselves.



    Little has been done to modify the iPod hardware; other than armbands and other accessories to dustproof the iPod and its speaker, Apple's media players are the same as those that left the factory. The Dock Connector on the bottom functions the same as it does for the reference player and permits speaker docks or most any accessory supported by the Cupertino original.



    An iPod nano with Vcommunicator Mobile, armband and speaker for use in the field. | Image credits: U.S. Army.



    By exploiting this familiarity to its advantage, Vcom 3D not only lowered the deployment cost versus earlier methods -- the complete development and equipment cost $800,000 -- but is said to have reduced the learning time both for the soldiers and the Iraqis it's meant to reach.



    Although few American infantrymen can understand Iraqi responses without the help of a translator, the music player is not only intuitive for the Westerners but also, surprisingly, for the Iraqis who are already familiar with Apple's design. The iPod is less threatening and breaks down more of the cultural barriers the software is meant to overcome.



    The year-long use by the 10th Mountain Division has been successful to such a degree that the U.S. Army is looking to expand the program to include the 1st Cavalry Division. The military wing will ship trial devices with three brigades about to leave for Iraq and may use the special iPods in a broader capacity if they prove useful during the division's operations. Their abilities to play photos and videos are already talked about as potentially useful for showing maps and other visual information to Iraqi residents.



    Vcom 3D's wins further deepen Apple's involvement with the American military, which in recent months has grown to include native iPhone apps.
  • Reply 12 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gon View Post


    All communication is good.



    That said, Brits had a program in place for having their field troops learn basic Arabic three years ago, maybe more. That's what you do when you are serious, instead of playing with gadgets. The US is slowly getting similar training in gear - it has made headlines in 2008 - but it comes 2-3 years later than the Brits, and arguably five years too late overall.



    It was known well in advance that the mission would be all about occupation, not open battle. Communication is everything in counterinsurgency. Language training could, and should, have started before the war did.



    It's as if just coming in contact with another culture or language is considered some kind of sign of weakness or dishonor by the US Army. That sounds nuts, I know - I'd like to hear a better explanation for its behavior, if there is one.



    Just for instance, they put up their own road signs "Charlie Road" etc. in former Yugoslavia, right next to perfectly legible local signs with local names. Mind you, this was peacetime, no one shooting at them, and constant GPS access. Foreign troops of other nationalities drove around just fine using the local signs. It's not exactly rocket science. Sign says "Xywrgargle" and map says "Xywrgargle". It shouldn't even matter if you fail to recognize individual characters in the name (think cyrillic, or kanji), as long as they are the same on the sign and on the map.



    The army mindset is completely last century. Top-down direction of "replaceable parts" (aka soldiers) instead of independent, educated fighting units with fewer better soldiers. Their solution is still to throw more bodies at a problem to solve it instead of evaluating and acting with real understanding. The whole system would probably work better if it were organized by women.
  • Reply 13 of 50
    bigmikebigmike Posts: 262member
    Great. Now let's get ALL of our soldiers home and safe. It'd be great to stop spending/wasting more money on unnecessary war.
  • Reply 14 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gon View Post


    All communication is good.



    That said, Brits had a program in place for having their field troops learn basic Arabic three years ago, maybe more. That's what you do when you are serious, instead of playing with gadgets. The US is slowly getting similar training in gear - it has made headlines in 2008 - but it comes 2-3 years later than the Brits, and arguably five years too late overall.



    It was known well in advance that the mission would be all about occupation, not open battle. Communication is everything in counterinsurgency. Language training could, and should, have started before the war did.



    It's as if just coming in contact with another culture or language is considered some kind of sign of weakness or dishonor by the US Army. That sounds nuts, I know - I'd like to hear a better explanation for its behavior, if there is one.



    Just for instance, they put up their own road signs "Charlie Road" etc. in former Yugoslavia, right next to perfectly legible local signs with local names. Mind you, this was peacetime, no one shooting at them, and constant GPS access. Foreign troops of other nationalities drove around just fine using the local signs. It's not exactly rocket science. Sign says "Xywrgargle" and map says "Xywrgargle". It shouldn't even matter if you fail to recognize individual characters in the name (think cyrillic, or kanji), as long as they are the same on the sign and on the map.



    You make it sound like all British soldiers are learning Arabic. The article states: "Sixty people study Arabic at present there, and this number is expected to rise to 80 in the coming months." Also, how may British troops were in Iraq...less than 10,000? The US has had well over 100,000 in Iraq. That makes teaching them Arabic a daunting task. Beyond that, many in our military learn foreign languages (arabic and others) through the Defense Language Institute or the military acedemies. See:

    http://www.dliflc.edu/

    And we have (after the Brits) started teaching Arabic to our army officers:

    http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/0...commander.html
  • Reply 15 of 50
    mactelmactel Posts: 1,275member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gon View Post


    That said, Brits had a program in place for having their field troops learn basic Arabic three years ago, maybe more. That's what you do when you are serious, instead of playing with gadgets. The US is slowly getting similar training in gear - it has made headlines in 2008 - but it comes 2-3 years later than the Brits, and arguably five years too late overall.



    I hope you don't seriously believe that. The military upped its Arabic training in 2001 to deal with Al-Qeda and and its mostly Arabic members. These iPods are no doubt not for the translators that already know Arabic and are sent to the best language school in the world. With troops on 12-15 month tours in Iraq is it really a priority to take them out of combat training and put them into Arabic classes - not at all.



    This is the dawn of the Stek Trek inspired universal translator. The iPod Touch would certainly be a more suited product but a receiver is needed (and appreciated for VOIP applications).
  • Reply 16 of 50
    zunxzunx Posts: 620member
    Great Vcommunicator Studio (Quickly and cost-effectively author your digital media with lifelike characters!) at



    http://www.vcom3d.com/vcommunicator.php



    A SHAME IT IS ONLY FOR WINDOWS! Anyone knows of a similar or better product for Mac? Thanks.
  • Reply 17 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gon View Post


    All communication is good.



    That said, Brits had a program in place for having their field troops learn basic Arabic three years ago, maybe more. That's what you do when you are serious, instead of playing with gadgets. The US is slowly getting similar training in gear - it has made headlines in 2008 - but it comes 2-3 years later than the Brits, and arguably five years too late overall.



    It was known well in advance that the mission would be all about occupation, not open battle. Communication is everything in counterinsurgency. Language training could, and should, have started before the war did.



    It's as if just coming in contact with another culture or language is considered some kind of sign of weakness or dishonor by the US Army. That sounds nuts, I know - I'd like to hear a better explanation for its behavior, if there is one.



    Just for instance, they put up their own road signs "Charlie Road" etc. in former Yugoslavia, right next to perfectly legible local signs with local names. Mind you, this was peacetime, no one shooting at them, and constant GPS access. Foreign troops of other nationalities drove around just fine using the local signs. It's not exactly rocket science. Sign says "Xywrgargle" and map says "Xywrgargle". It shouldn't even matter if you fail to recognize individual characters in the name (think cyrillic, or kanji), as long as they are the same on the sign and on the map.



    I agree, and disagree. On one side, yes - 100% yes, there should have been a program in place to have soldiers learn basic Arabic.



    On the other, I hardly think this deserves your put down of "playing with gadgets" - you forget how you began this, communication is good. Learning a language doesn't happen overnight, sure as hell my attempts to learn Mandarin prove so much; something is better than nothing.



    This is something, not the end, but the beginning.
  • Reply 18 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AHeneen View Post


    You make it sound like all British soldiers are learning Arabic. The article states: "Sixty people study Arabic at present there, and this number is expected to rise to 80 in the coming months." Also, how may British troops were in Iraq...less than 10,000? The US has had well over 100,000 in Iraq. That makes teaching them Arabic a daunting task. Beyond that, many in our military learn foreign languages (arabic and others) through the Defense Language Institute or the military academies. See:

    http://www.dliflc.edu/

    And we have (after the Brits) started teaching Arabic to our army officers:

    http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/0...commander.html



    Defense Language Institute in Monterey. A professor of mine left my school for there. He was good. *sigh*
  • Reply 19 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    ... [T]he whole system would probably work better if it were organized by women.



    Unbelievable. The Gaul in some people!
  • Reply 20 of 50
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bigmike View Post


    Great. Now let's get ALL of our soldiers home and safe. It'd be great to stop spending/wasting more money on unnecessary war.



    Has there ever been a necessary war?
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