When U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan need to communicate in Iraqi Arabic, Kurdish (spoken in north Iraq), or Dari and Pushto (Afghani languages), they can reach for an iPod.
Vcom3D, working with troops from the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division, designed a software product called VCommunicator Mobile that uses the iPod to display a phonetic translation, "speak" a phrase through an attached speaker, display the phrase in local writing, or demonstrate hand gestures that are common in Arabic.
The Army is fielding about 260 iPods and iPod nanos equipped with this system, with about 700 individual troops using the device in Iraq and Afghanistan. The total cost of the system, including the software development for all of the specific dialects and languages, a speaker that plugs into the earphone port, and protective covers for both the iPod and speaker, was about $800,000.
Before someone makes a crack about the U.S. Military buying $3,100 iPods, remember that these are running custom software with key phrases that must be accurately rendered in a number of different languages, and custom software development and language localization is never inexpensive. The system also comes with a laptop-based editor for adding new phrases or editing existing ones.
Vcom3D chose the iPod platform for the system after realizing that both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians owned or were familiar with Apple's iconic media device.