Army tests translation tool

Army aims to break down the language barrier

For members of the military deployed all over the globe, language is one of the barriers that cannot be easily broken with traditional tactics, munitions or technologies.  But the Army has begun testing a handheld mobile device that could allow soldiers to communicate with partners in Africa regardless of language.

The VoxTec SQ.410 Translation System is currently programmed with nine languages.  The system repeats the English phrase it hears on a display screen for both a written and spoken translation.  It also has recording capabilities for translating after the fact.  And it does not an Internet or cell network connection to operate. 

According to the manufacturer's product sheet, the SQ.410 uses phrase-based, one-way translation -- predefined sets of English words, phrases and questions within a particular domain or functional area. Recorded translations are stored on the removable micro SD card. These translations have been grouped into categories designed for different situations.

Tests conducted at an Army facility in Italy in mid-July yielded positive reviews from subjects.  The next step is putting the device into the field for additional testing and red-teaming to identify kinks and possible design improvements.

Challenges still remain; more research and testing is needed before the system can effectively recognize regional accents, or consistently translate the technical language or jargon typically used by military personnel.

The next field testing will occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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