Cameroon Army soldiers record speech into a SQ.410 Translation System.

Battlespace Tech

Army demos multi-language translator, solar-power rucksacks

The Army is finding new ways for soldiers to have their rucksacks work for them, as demonstrated recently during a 1,000-personnel, 14-nation exercise in Africa.

Central Accord 16, the largest exercise that U.S. Army Africa has conducted to date, was held in Libreville, Gabon, and, among other things, addressed two issues troops often face in the field: power sources and language translation.

Researchers with the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command tested two science & technology prototypes—a solar power source for the rucksacks and translation software that allow soldiers to communicate with their African counterparts, particularly in the variety of French dialects that are common in the region (French is the primary language in Gabon.)

"It was very interesting to work with the French-speaking volunteers, most of whom were military from African partner nations," Dr. Stephen LaRocca, a computer scientist and team chief of the Multilingual Computing and Analysis Branch at the Army Research Laboratory, said in a release. "As a group, they were enthusiastic about the speech translation technology and hopeful that it would facilitate communications."

One focus of the exercise was to collect speech samples  in order to build up the translation software. Nineteen U.S. soldier and Army civilians using seven SQ.410 Translation System devices, collected 7,778 audio totaling nine hours of speech from 130 participants, according to the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, which along with ARL oversaw the S&T elements of the exercise. The participants from Gabon, Cameroon, Congo and Chad spoke 16 native-language dialects.

The SQ.410 is a rugged, handheld device that also can be worn on  the chest for hand-free operation. It will repeats a user’s words back in English while displaying the on a screen to ensure the accuracy of its voice recognition function, then translate the words into another language. The system, which does not require an Internet or cellular connection, was tested last year in Italy, at the time programmed with nine languages.

The exercise also demonstrated a way to provide power for portable devices in remote areas, in the form of the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System, or REPPS, a system of solar panels that also features a new multi-USB port designed by CERDEC for U.S. Army Africa.

REPPS, which has been in the works since 2010, is one of several efforts to provide power to deployed soldiers while reducing the weight of carrying extra batteries. Another CERDEC effort showing promise in the Energy Harvester Assault Pack, which attaches to a rucksack and captures kinetic energy from a soldier’s movement. Army researchers also are developing other wearable energy-harvesting gear.

As with the other prototypes, researchers are using the exercises to gather feedback in efforts to improve the devices.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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