USA — Device helps Soldiers communicate with Afghan citizens

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — Smart phone. Trans­la­tion Sys­tem for Tac­ti­cal use. TransTac. Machine For­eign Lan­guage Trans­la­tion device.
Although it goes by many names, this device per­forms one func­tion, speech-to-speech trans­la­tion, and it’s a tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tion capa­ble of fill­ing in the gaps when there aren’t enough human lin­guists avail­able.

The TransTac is but one example of the new technology developed to assist the warfighter in the field. It translates English into Pashto and Dari, and vice-versa, which assists with communication between Soldiers and Afghans.
The TransTac is but one exam­ple of the new tech­nol­o­gy devel­oped to assist the warfight­er in the field. It trans­lates Eng­lish into Pash­to and Dari, and vice-ver­sa, which assists with com­mu­ni­ca­tion between Sol­diers and Afghans.
Pho­to Cred­it: Cour­tesy Pho­to.
Click to enlarge

The TransTac device, which will be field­ed for the first time to the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion (AASLT) to Afghanistan before the end of the cal­en­dar year, will be used by Sol­diers to trans­late Eng­lish to Dari or Eng­lish to Pash­to, and vice-versa. 

The per­son­nel in the Train­ing and Doc­trine Com­mand Capa­bil­i­ty Man­ag­er-Bio­met­rics and Foren­sics team at Fort Huachu­ca are the capa­bil­i­ty devel­op­ers for the TransTac device. 

Patrick O’Mal­ley, a machine for­eign lan­guage trans­la­tion sub­ject mat­ter expert with TCM-BF, says their job is to study the Army’s needs. While doing that, they fol­low the method­ol­o­gy of “what’s the gap between where we are today and where we need to be?” 

“One thing we noticed is we can’t speak the lan­guages of Afghanistan, and DLI (Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute) can’t train enough peo­ple fast enough to learn those lan­guages. So there’s our gap,” he explains. 

“The human lin­guist is still at the top, espe­cial­ly the con­tract inter­preter who knows Eng­lish and Dari [or Pash­to] very well,” O’Mal­ley notes, adding the device does not elim­i­nate the need for inter­preters, but it does allow the inter­preters to attend to high­er-lev­el tasks. 

“You want the inter­preter ques­tion­ing the most impor­tant peo­ple, but if you want to screen peo­ple … this is ade­quate just to find out who’s who,” O’Mal­ley says. “For inter­ro­ga­tion, you need a human. A machine is not going to under­stand the sub­tleties of speech, like whether somebody’s lying to you … where a human inter­preter could. 

“The con­cept of a talk­ing phrase book has been around for 15 or 20 years,” O’Mal­ley explains, but the pre­vi­ous devices Sol­diers used had phras­es they could choose from, but the device did not have the capa­bil­i­ty to allow Sol­diers to ask their own ques­tions. Also, there was no capa­bil­i­ty for the oth­er per­son to respond. 

The project began about four years ago, with a device that could trans­late Eng­lish into Iraqi-Ara­bic and vice-ver­sa. Sol­diers used lap­tops at the time, but the feed­back TCM-BF was get­ting is Sol­diers want­ed a small­er device. 

So they began to look for a more com­pact device with capa­bil­i­ty to assist Sol­diers and inter­preters. They looked at dif­fer­ent ways to pro­vide this tech­nol­o­gy by estab­lish­ing a pro­gram of record. While this is being built, TCM-BF per­son­nel also look for a short-term solu­tion, called a quick reac­tion capa­bil­i­ty. The Defense Advance Research Project Agency does research and seeks ven­dors to build the prod­uct, and the gov­ern­ment will select the best ven­dor before they field the device. 

Putting some­thing on a smart phone is eas­i­er because Sol­diers already under­stand the tech­nol­o­gy, O’Mal­ley explains. 

There are two pro­to­types the Army is con­sid­er­ing using. The first includes each speak­er hav­ing a phone. Speak­ers can com­mu­ni­cate back and forth using their own phones (push-to-talk), which work up to 100 feet away. The oth­er option is using one device the speak­ers pass back and forth. 

O’Mal­ley says the devices and appli­ca­tion are sim­ple to use and describes it as a “state-of-the-art” smart phone. 

There are voice com­mands, such as “play instruc­tions,” and the phone will give the instruc­tions, in Pash­to or Dari, on how to use the phone. 

“Not only does it say and syn­the­size what it would be in the oth­er lan­guage, but it also tran­scribes it in writ­ing on the screen,” O’Mal­ley explains, not­ing the writ­ing on the screen is ben­e­fi­cial if the oth­er per­son does­n’t hear the words right or if they’re in a noisy envi­ron­ment.
“We trained Sol­diers how to use these, and it did­n’t take more than 10 min­utes,” he says, adding there are oth­er “niceties” in the phone’s pro­gram­ming such as recon­fig­ur­ing the phone or chang­ing the tar­get language. 

Although the device has to adjust to a voice, O’Mal­ley says the smart phone does a good job of rec­og­niz­ing a voice. 

One of the poten­tial issues TCM-BF per­son­nel noticed was lim­it­ed bat­tery life. Since smart phones have large proces­sors and these devices have three net­works — cel­lu­lar, Blue­tooth and WiFi — O’Mal­ley says they were con­cerned about the bat­tery life. They per­formed tests and they real­ized the phones were get­ting four hours of bat­tery life. 

“That was a prob­lem. Four hours isn’t good enough,” he says. “We decid­ed to shoot for 12 hours because a mil­i­tary mis­sion could be up to 12 hours long.” 

They turned all the net­works off and per­formed a few mem­o­ry man­age­ment tasks, and were able to get up to 22 hours of bat­tery life if they were just using the speech-to-speech trans­la­tion application. 

The TransTac will be used at check­point oper­a­tions, base secu­ri­ty and med­ical prob­lems. The high­est-lev­el task they would tack­le with the device is tac­ti­cal questioning. 

Also, the device keeps a log file, so if some­thing impor­tant was said dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, the Sol­dier can upload the tran­script, which can be used by an intel­li­gence analyst. 

This is the first field­ing of these devices, and is con­sid­ered the oper­a­tional assess­ment for the capa­bil­i­ty. The goal of the oper­a­tional assess­ment is to see if the tech­nol­o­gy is ready to field theater-wide. 

O’Mal­ley says Sol­diers need to be aware that not all the Afghans will have the same reac­tions to the device. The Sol­diers will need to be sit­u­a­tion­al­ly and cul­tur­al­ly aware of, and sen­si­tive to the country’s environment. 

He also says this is part of the vision of “con­nect­ing Sol­diers to dig­i­tal appli­ca­tions,” and the long-term goal is to pro­vide each Sol­dier a smart phone dur­ing basic training. 

Dur­ing this first field­ing, TCM-BF per­son­nel will pro­vide Sol­diers with sur­veys to com­plete and tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures for using the device. 

There is also a sec­ondary pur­pose for the phone, and that is to help Sol­diers learn the lan­guage. O’Mal­ley says in the future, the Army will be able to add oth­er lan­guages if the Sol­diers need that capability. 

The Army would like to intro­duce more spe­cial­iza­tion capa­bil­i­ties such as name recog­ni­tion, or com­bat life-sav­ing knowl­edge and first aid. They also hope to improve the device by train­ing it on spe­cif­ic mis­sions, which will improve the vocabulary. 

US Army 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →