coast guard intercepts migrants (U.S. Coast Guard)

Coast Guard may soon be carrying handheld translators

The Coast Guard is getting handheld voice-to-text translators.

The Silicon Valley Innovation Program, run by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, has awarded Phase 1 funding to Kynamics to build a portable, standalone language translator for Coast Guard personnel.

While performing rescue and investigation missions, Coast Guard operators must be able to accurately communicate in real time with vessel occupants – many of whom are non-English speakers.

DHS issued the Language Translator solicitation in February, looking for a small handheld device that allows the user to interpret a variety of languages quickly and carry on two-way conversations in multiple languages in real time. Speech would be translated and displayed in real-time on a screen so responders and other parties can understand what each other is saying. The device would also record the audio and video of conversations for future playback.

DHS envisioned that the translator could be used to facilitate communications when Guard members board vessels so they can quickly assess the situation – finding out how many people are on-board or the status of life saving equipment, for example. Recordings of interviews of victims and suspects would support after-action reporting.

Because many missions take place at sea in hazardous conditions and in locations without cellular or internet connections, the translator must float, be waterproof and capable of working offline on battery power without degradation of performance, DHS said.

The translator must be able to detect, identify and translate a minimum of 16 of the most common languages and include vocabulary for specialized Coast Guard missions, giving users the ability to ask questions to assess a situation, introduce themselves and convey next steps.

For the Phase 1 award, Kynamics will enhance its multilingual TalkBox translator, an embedded battery-powered hardware board, so that it can detect the spoken language, operate offline and automatically check for updates and feedback when an internet connection is available.

According to its website, Kynamics provides speech recognition and natural language interactions for iOS and Android mobile apps. The company specializes in “on-device inferencing with training a deep neural network for tasks such as handwriting recognition, image recognition and face recognition and [natural language processing].”

The Language Translator solicitation is open through Feb. 20, 2021, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

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