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Since its release in late 2001, Apple’s iPod has revolutionized how the world listens to music, audio books and broadcasts. And now, thanks to the Vcommunicator Mobile from Vcom3D Inc., the iPod is also helping U.S. warfighters protect lives, navigate unfamiliar turf, and track down terrorists while carrying out missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This small, hand-held system is already on patrol with more than 700 servicemembers. The Vcommunicator software employs about 300 words and hundreds of phrases in Iraqi Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashto and modern standard Arabic to help soldiers and Marines interact with non-English speaking civilians.

ipod2.jpgThe iPod and auxiliary speaker strap onto the warfighter’s wrist and forearm for convenient use and is powered indefinitely by a small solar panel clipped to their pack. To further assist interaction with foreign nationals, the iPod’s screen also displays an avatar to teach users the appropriate hand, arm or body gestures to demonstrate respect and understanding.

And because almost all U.S. warfighters already own iPods, it’s a snap to learn from the Vcommunicator during downtime, and communicate with locals and carry out missions with it in real time. By enhancing communication on several fronts, the Vcommunicator reduces confusion and increases cooperation with locals.

Why the iPod?
The Vcommunicator was first available on the iPod Classic and iPod Nano, and is now operational on the iPhone and iPod Touch. “The iPhone and Touch give the Vcommunicator even more flexibility to increase its capabilities,” said Ernie Bright, operations manager and mobile-product manager for Vcommunicator. “Plus, they require virtually no training.

“It’s fun for soldiers to use because they’re accustomed to getting loaded down with 80 pounds of gear and having to learn proprietary technology that’s packaged in something the size and weight of a brick,” Bright said. “You hand them a Vcommunicator on an iPod, and it’s a breeze. These guys are iPod-savvy. By the time I start my spiel, they’re interrupting me with Arabic phrases or questions, along with the appropriate arm and hand gestures.”

The Army’s 10th Mountain Division was the first unit to test the Vcommunicator system and develop mission-specific programs. In fact, the system went from concept to Iraq in less than 10 months. Since then, all four military branches have been using the Vcommunicator but so far it has been used most by the Army, including the 82nd Airborne and 4th Infantry Divisions.

Vcom3D’s longtime expertise is creating avatars and communication systems for sign-language applications. That made the company perfect for developing a portable communications aid for Mideast missions. The iPod seems to be the perfect vehicle for sending the Vcommunicator into combat zones.

“By choosing the iPod, we can use all-commercial, off-the-shelf hardware that has plenty of accessories and even more in development,” Bright said. “We can easily update the products as the technology advances, and as long as soldiers are using iPods, the Vcommunicator will always be soldier-friendly.”

Bridging Cultural Gaps
More importantly, the Vcommunicator increases the safety of U.S. warfighters by helping them interact in languages and cultures foreign to anything they’ve experienced at home.

“Serving in Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t like being stationed in Germany where you can go into town, drink beer and hang out with locals to learn their customs,” Bright said. “The Iraqis and Afghans pretty much stay put and keep to themselves, so it’s tough to bridge that gap.”

When soldiers encounter someone they wish to greet, they can click on the iPod, pick the phrase, “Peace be upon you,” and read and hear its phonetic pronunciation. The avatar shows them how to place their hand over the heart during the greeting. The menu also offers simple phrases like “Please wait,” which includes the avatar pinching its fingers together while motioning.

For longer, more complicated phrases that are difficult to remember, soldiers can push a button and play the words through their speaker, or even a megaphone to address larger crowds. Or, they can show the iPod’s screen to people and let them read the question in its Arabic script. In addition, if they receive a long reply, they can record it on the iPod and play it back later for interpreters.

For mission-related content, such as manhunts, they can add photos and descriptions to show people. “In my demonstration, I show a photo of Osama bin Laden and ask if they know the person,” Bright said. “If they know where he is, we display a map and have them show us where to find him.”

And if soldiers are working at a vehicle checkpoint, the Vcommunicator’s library list walks them through phrases they must use, such as: “peace be upon you,” “we need to search your vehicle,” “please turn off your car,” “please open the door,” “please step out of your car,” etc.

Bright iPod Future
As soldiers find more uses for the Vcommunicator, they can write their own mission menus into the program. In addition, other countries are starting to use the Vcommunicator.

“We’ve seen interest not only from Canada and Australia, but also the Afghan National Army,” Bright said. “They want to use the system in reverse as they train with our soldiers. People like to serve as their own interpreters, and not have a third party translating for them.” For more information on Vcom3D visit www.vcom3d.com or call 407-737-7310.

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