Star Trek-like 'Phraselator' device helps police communicate

Yet another Star Trek-like device is making its way into the real world. VoxTec’s Phraselator name sounds a bit like something the Three Stooges might have used long ago but no, this PDA-like device was developed through Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for use in Afghanistan and Iraq by American soldiers for communicating with locals who spoke Farsi, Dari, Pashto and other languages.


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It is now being used as one tool to help keep the peace between English and non-English speakers by police departments in California, Florida, Nevada.

In a nutshell the $2,500 ruggedized Phraselator runs an Intel PXA255 400mHz processor that supports a built-In noise canceling microphone, a VOCON 3200 Speech Recognizer, 1GB removable SD card, 256MB of DRAM Memory and 64MB Flash Memory. It can store up to 10,000 phrases.

The device doesn’t do straight voice-to-voice translations but for example in the police departments multi-lingual officers translate and record standard issue police commands, such as the Miranda rights, and other questions, that beat officers can retrieve and broadcast by a simple English-language text or voice word search. The device then speaks phrase in another language through its speaker.

"It is not quite like that translator thing on 'Star Trek.' It's a step or two away," Los Angeles police Capt. Dennis Kato told the Los Angeles Times. "But when it comes to crowd control, natural disasters or medical emergencies, it can be a lifesaver."

For its part DARPA is continuing to develop language translation systems. DARPA this winter awarded BBN Technologies a $5.6 million contract to develop an automated translation system for handheld, laptop or desktop computers.

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