iPod Translator is Music to My Ears


Now your iPod isnt just an entertainment device anymore and it might just be able to save your life or find Osama himself.

Trolling around at last weeks Modern Day Marine trade show at Quantico on Tuesday, Defense Tech caught sight of this cool little piece of gear thats sure to be all the rage in the sandbox. And it may even give you an excuse to plop down some bucks and modernize your iPod.

Its called Vcommunicator Mobile and its a new way to rock the insurgency with vocab instead of Van Halen.

Youre at a checkpoint and you need the Iraqi to get out of the vehicle and open the trunk. Scroll the iPod wheel over to Vehicle Checkpoint mission library and itll show a list of phrases: peace be upon you; we need to search your vehicle; turn off your car; open the door; etc. The iPod will show the words in phonetics and in Arabic so you can try the phrase yourself or show it to an Iraqi to read.

But click on the Arabic script and the phrase plays through a miniature speaker plugged into your iPod (Vcom salespeople had some nifty arm bands to attach both the iPod and speaker within reach). Theres even a primer on the right gestures to make when saying the phrase.

So far the Vcom software incorporates around 300 vocabulary words and 400 phrases in Arabic and Kurdish with Pashto and Dari dictionaries on the way. The software includes a phrase and gesture-builder module so you can design your own specific mission phrases as needed.

The Vcom is different from the well-known Phrasalator translator in that it is only one way its not like someone can speak into it in one language and have the translation come out the other. But two-way translators are large, clunky, hard to operate and require someone to get close to the person theyre trying to talk to something that might not be a good idea when youre talking to a potential enemy.

We went low-tech, explained Ernie Bright, operations manager with Vcom3D.

So far, Vcom operations manager Ernie Bright says 10th Mountain Division soldiers in Iraq have 160 Vcom-equipped iPods and he hopes more will catch on with the new release of their iPod Nano-compatible version.

— Christian

  • Penta

    This raises a question: Is there a version of the iPod that’s rugged enough to stand up to military (ab)use?
    Mine can’t even stand up to the light levels of abuse that come with just plain me. I’m not sure it could stand up to the abuse level of a war zone.

  • Edward

    I’m an infantry soldier at Fort Riley training for deployment to Iraq in May. Myself and 30 other soldiers in our Brigade were selected to participate in a full-time intensive Iraqi Arabic language course. As part of the program we were each given a Microsoft Zune which we are loading up with our own playlists as the class progresses.
    I hadn’t thought of organizing the playlists based on particular scenarios, but it is a good idea.
    Our ultimate goal (one it looks like we will attain) however is to communicate in these situations without any need for reference material, hardcopy or digital.
    I would encourage anyone with these devices to use them to familiarize themselves with the language and not rely on them at the moments translation is needed.
    While they may be useful to communicate TO an Iraqi, they won’t be much use when the Iraqi is trying to speak to the Servicemember. By listening to these phrases in their freetime, they will at least understand a few key words.

  • Edward Liu

    I’ve seen lots of these iPod phrasebooks for sale in the travel section of bookstores. Searching for “ipod phrasebook” in Amazon.com turns up tons of them, though none in Arabic. It sounds like the major change here is that Vcom’s product will print the words in Arabic and they have a lightweight speaker system as well.
    Are the iPod durability comments applicable to units like the iPod nano (i.e., the ones with no moving parts in them)? It doesn’t surprise me that a HD-based iPod would break quickly, but I would have thought the nanos would last longer in a combat zone with a lot fewer precautions.

  • 22lr

    Usefull I guess but no way near effective as learning it yourself.

  • Betsy Beamer Farner

    The Vcommunicator was developed by an Orlando firm, Vcom3D. What they have programmed so far is just the start as I see it. I think now they need to go back to the drawing board and develop a device that can interpret what is slowly being spoken and translate it to English. I know it will be a painstaking venture, but we cetainly have the technology to do it. Maybe our military intelligence can help support this since there are so few translators in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East in general. When all else fails, it seems that complete immersion is the best way to go.

  • Ipod Nano

    Good to see they are finding new uses for the Ipod Nano everyday, this one I

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