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Technology Hardware

Star Trek-like 'Phraselator' Helps Police 199

coondoggie writes "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. 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."
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Star Trek-like 'Phraselator' Helps Police

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  • by Token_Internet_Girl ( 1131287 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:16PM (#22076078)
    "I thought she was asking for sex, turns out she just wanted directions to the 7-11. Oopsies!"
  • This is horrid (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:17PM (#22076084) Homepage Journal
    The summary is the first 3 paragraphs of the article and, not surprisingly, fails to summarize the article. So when you actually go and read the article you get the feeling that maybe it is an example of how poor automatic translation is, as the article has incredibly horrid grammar.. to the point that the whole second half of the article makes no sense.

    Oh, and when you finally do figure out what the hell this article is about, it's boring as hell.. who cares about a mobile language translator device with text-to-speech that doesn't even do speech recognition? Travelers have been able to pick up such technology for $50 for a decade now.

    • by ichbineinneuben ( 1065378 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:24PM (#22076154)
      It included the processor and the clock speed, just what do you want???
    • Re:This is horrid (Score:5, Informative)

      by ZzzzSleep ( 606571 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:56PM (#22076438) Homepage Journal
      You could try this [] blog post in Wired []. But I don't know that it's much better.
    • by Itninja ( 937614 )
      Yeah, I agree. I think this story was picked up just because of the weak Star Trek reference. This just in! Motorola makes an amazing portable telephone called the PHAZR!!!!
    • by Marful ( 861873 )
      But can you install linux on it?
    • But this one is ruggedized for military use, therefore it must be awesome, right?

      Also, where exactly does the star trek parallel start? is it ruggedized into an aluminum earpiece? Is is only to be used by a foxy black chick? I too am somewhat unclear as to why a talking electronic english to X dictionary is newsworthy.

    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
      Travelers have been able to pick up such technology for $50 for a decade now.

      Travellers have been able to pick up pocket phrase books for about $1 for the last 200 years. I have a nice collection on my bookshelf, well thumbed and annotated from my travelling days. Seeing as you actually have to type your phrase into this thing, I really doubt it performs any faster than a thoughtfully indexed phrase book.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TFGeditor ( 737839 )
      It also seems a bit overdone for the purpose. Cops investigating an "incident" need very basic information (who, what, when, where, how). When I was in the U.S. Army, we had "pointee-talkee" cards with common questions/answers printed in English and in whatever local language. The questioner pointed to a phrase in English on the card, and the respondent read it in his own language printed immediately beneath. Respondent then pointed to the appropriate response in his language, and the questioner then read i
  • Phraselator? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:18PM (#22076092)
    VoxTec's marketing department should be summarily dismissed for coming up with that one.
  • One Way Tool? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Faizdog ( 243703 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:19PM (#22076108)
    This is pretty good, but it still doesn't solve the problem that the officer can't understand the other individual. This could lead to some problems. Now, an officer may wait for backup that speaks the language, or proceed forward knowing that he/she cannot understand the other person and vice-a-versa.

    Now, due to this device, officers could think they are making themselves clear, and behave differently, (i.e. I said get down, and I said it in your language, now get down or I shoot), but the other side could be saying something important and can't be understood.
    • Re:One Way Tool? (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:27PM (#22076204) Homepage Journal
      And what's really stupid is that there are commercial devices available [] which are bidirectional for under US$600. Sounds like great US military spending.
      • by adminstring ( 608310 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:43PM (#22076310)
        Or better yet, they could just use a simple, inexpensive megaphone. Because everyone knows that if you just speak LOUDER and LOUDER, eventually you will reach a volume where the non-English-speaking person will finally understand you!
        • Who needs loudness. The distinct "clink-clunk" of a weapon being cocked is universally understood to mean "get on the fucking ground before I blow your head off". Anything else is just pillow-talk.

          Actually, now that I think about it, judging by the videos I've seen on TV, that's the universal language for anywhere EXCEPT America, where a weapon being cocked seems to mean "please come and argue with me some more".
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by Dutch Gun ( 899105 )
        Military (or police) equipment is on a whole different level than most commercial devices when it comes to acceptable tolerances for failure. This process is often described as making a piece of equipment "solder-proof". People who don't understand this need to realize that when lives are literally on the line (for both soldiers and civilians), you often have to pay a premium for both the reliability and/or the specialization needed for military applications. You have to take ALL the specifications into
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by hughk ( 248126 )
          If one looks at the average military procurement program the prime concern is not whether it works, just that there are enough retired senior military officers on the company's payroll. Note that PDAs have been used for some time by people like surveyors, construction workers and so on. These ruggedised versions are best to use for comparison purposes. Yes, they do cost more than a regular PDA, but that much?
        • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:07AM (#22077900) Homepage Journal

          This process is often described as making a piece of equipment "solder-proof"

          Nothing is impervious to my soldering. I can destroy anything.

      • SOMEwhere in there is an embedded, county/parish/municipality based digitized asshole:

        Contempt Modes

        CM1 "SCUMBAG, get ON the GROUND NOW, or i WILL DROP YOU."
        CM2 "Turn the FUCK around. PUT your DAMNED hands UP."
        CM4 "Don't FUCKIN' LIE TO ME, PEDRO/Patel/Nguyen/(sub a name you want)I'm gonna deport your ass."
        CM5 "Go back where you came from..."

        (As someone given false tickets at least 1 time by local police and TWO times by CHP, and nearly screwed by the judges on the case/docket, I
      • by hughk ( 248126 )
        The model you mention looks a bit too flimsy, but they also do this one [] which really does look a lot more something that you could easily carry around and use on the move.
      • That and other devices people have linked to don't support anywhere near the number and diversity of languages the Phraselator does. It may not be the greatest translator ever designed, but it supports a lot more than any other device I've seen: []
      • by crossmr ( 957846 )
        Ectaco already had a contract with some US police forces and I think the department of defense with their speechguard devices which were bidirectional voice translators. I also believe they were cheaper than these.
  • "My hovercraft is full of eels"

    • by QuickFox ( 311231 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:28PM (#22076212)

      "My hovercraft is full of eels"

      Let me explain. What this means is that the guy who wrote the comment is the owner of a hovercraft, and he's complaining that it's full of eels.
      • by Jardine ( 398197 )
        Let me explain. What this means is that the guy who wrote the comment is the owner of a hovercraft, and he's complaining that it's full of eels.

        I think you're reading too much into the statement. He may not be complaining that his hovercraft is full of eels, he may be letting you know in case you happen to be in the market for some eels. He may be bragging about his large number of eels. He may think that you asked to borrow his hovercraft and is letting you know that you can't...because it's full of eels.
    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      Do you waaaaant ... do you waaaaaant ... to come back to my place, bouncy-bouncy?
      • by ross.w ( 87751 )
        Kiss me, Sir William, I am no longer infected.
        • Kudos to whoever tagged this article with the hovercraft bit, a much better choice than "I will not buy this record, it is scratched".

          Kiss me, Sir William, I am no longer infected.

          Close but no cigar. Here's the breakdown, which I can write down from memory:

          - Do you want to go to my place, bouncy bouncy!!?
          - You great poof.
          - If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?
          - I am no longer infected.
          - Drop your panties, Sir William, I cannot wait 'till lunchtime.

          Then, exclaimed with great outr
    • by tkw954 ( 709413 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:44PM (#22076314)
      "A légpárnás hajóm tele van angolnákkal"

      For further information, please visit this page. []

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ChrisMP1 ( 1130781 )
        The Esperanto for it is wrong.

        Mia kusenveturilo estas plena da angiloj
        This suggests that your hovercraft is completely made of eels. Try "Mia kusenveturilo estas enspacita de angiloj."

        This phrase comes features in a sketch about a badly translated English-Hungarian phrasebook from the British TV comedy show, Monty Python's Flying Circus.
        Badly translated English-Esperanto phrasebook anyone?
        • by tkw954 ( 709413 )
          That is 100% awesome. I wondered how many of those translations were wrong. Subtle humour is always better.
        • Wow, you actually learned Esperanto?

          Let me guess, you did it at night school while you were training training as a monorail driver and undergoing zero G training ready for your move to the international moon base in the year 2000?
    • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:49AM (#22079182) Homepage Journal
      That's it! I've had it with these motherfucking eels on this motherfucking hovercraft!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:21PM (#22076130)
    Citizen: Someone's planted a bomb in there!
    Phraselator: "Somebody set up us the bomb."
    Soldier: What you say!!
  • Good thing? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gotzero ( 1177159 )
    I am not sure those two sides will want to know what the other is saying... Does it work two ways? It seems like it would be more helpful but also more cumbersome as a dialog.
    • Nope, it's a one way device. The police enter the phrase and this thing speaks it in whatever language it's set to. There are slightly more details in a wired article here [].
  • by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:24PM (#22076156) Journal
    The reason they're not using it in all major cities is simple,... it won't translate jive . So it's useless in the ghetto,... I guess we'll still have to look for little, old, white ladies that speak jive!
  • by Mister Transistor ( 259842 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:26PM (#22076180) Journal
    Aliens: "Bak Bak, BaBa Bak Bak, BAK BAK BAK"

    Translator: "We come in peace, we mean you no harm!"

    "See? They mean us no harm!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Megane ( 129182 )
      Ruri: "Baka, baaaaka."
    • by RuBLed ( 995686 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:40PM (#22076292)
      Funny, it reminds me of an elevator conversation joke in our native tongue (Tagalog).

      The scenario is that a foreigner (english) and a native was taking a ride down the elevator and it stopped halfway down, the door opened and the native outside the elevator asked if it is going down. The native inside said Yes it is going down. The conversation goes like this...

      Native Outside Elevator: Bababa ba?
      Native Inside Elevator: Bababa.
      *Both natives understood each other*

      The root word is "Baba" meaning "down" or "under".
      Doubling the first syllable "Bababa" would mean continuing action as in "going down"
      Adding a word "ba" after an action denotes a question (like adding "ka" at the end in Japanese)

      So "Bababa ba?" means "Is this going down? (elevator)" to which the answer is an affirmative "Bababa." meaning "Yes it is going down."

      "Ba" is pronounced like the "ba" in "bat"

      The foreigner then asked if the natives just had a conversation :D

      How would this device fare against such scenarios. I dunno. There are so many possibilities when it comes to languages...
      • There's a similar story in Brazil. The people in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais are famous for chopping parts out of words when they talk. There's a joke about two mineiros (natives of Minas Gerais) having a conversation over coffee. One asks the other "po po po?"
        The other responds "po po."

        Translating to more common Portuguese (I'll get to English - bear with me), the first is asking "pode pôr pó?" The second responds "pode pôr." They have both cut words and slightly changed the
        • Or in French...

          Do you like your university?
          Aimez-vous votre fac?

          Fac sounds surprisingly like f*ck. So it you aren't quite fluent in French it sounds like: do you like (wtf?) fuck :-)

      • by pev ( 2186 )

        How would this device fare against such scenarios. I dunno.

        Well of course it wouldnt! So much of language is understanding the context. Given that the whole meaning of a phrase can be changed by a smile, wink, frown or gesture this is hard! Also it would really want to be translating and remembering earlier sentences from both/all parties to understand the wider context of the conversation as a whole. An interesting example of this was demonstrated by a UK court case in the 50's that was also made into a fi

      • by dargaud ( 518470 )
        Funny. I had a similar experience recently in a hotel in Croatia. I asked something in english to the guy cleaning the corridor (don't remember what it was), and by sign he made it clear he didn't know english, but asked me to follow him. He then asked another person and his sentence which lasted a good minute was something like: "Brrrrrkrkrkrkrkrrrrrrrbbbbbbbbbrkrkrkrkr". I swear, it was like a chainsaw going off without a single vowel. Foreign languages can sound so alien sometimes.
    • My guess is no. 10,000 phrases might sound like alot, but I can imagine that they would get used up very quickly. Sounds like the only application for this is for police to give commands. With the speech recognition software, not only would only a handful of people be able to use it, but they would also have to know the limits of the device, as far as how fast you can talk, what extent of a vocabulary it has, and so on.
  • by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. ( 142215 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:42PM (#22076300) Homepage
    Todos son de su base nos pertenece
    Toutes vos bases sont nous appartiennent
    Ihre Basis sind gehören zu uns

    Al uw uitvalsbasis zijn bij ons horen
    Tutti sono la base appartengono a noi

    Toda a sua base são pertence a nós
    • That should be...

      Todos sus bases son nos pertenecen.

      And yes, that is the correct, incorrect, Spanish. I am a professional. Do not try this at home.
  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by jmac1492 ( 1036880 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:44PM (#22076326)
  • I read thais as a star trek item with a VOGON 3200 Speech Recognizer.

    Vogon would be pretty impressive.
  • by croddy ( 659025 ) * on Wednesday January 16, 2008 @11:53PM (#22076408)
    What the hell is a noise canceling microphone?
  • H2G2 (Score:3, Funny)

    by LordHatrus ( 763508 ) <slashdot AT clockfort DOT com> on Thursday January 17, 2008 @12:35AM (#22076734) Homepage
    >> a VOCON 3200 Speech Recognizer
    A VOGON 3200 speech recognizer? Don't the Vogons use Babel Fish like the rest of us? :-)
  • So this is a ruggadized Pocket PC (like they use in the automotive section of Wal-Mart) with custom voice recognition software.

    Dan East
  • mHz? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Thursday January 17, 2008 @01:38AM (#22077142) Journal
    PXA255 400mHz

    I don't know, maybe they should get one of them new-fangled Intel chips that's rumored to do a full processor cycle in *under* two seconds?
  • ... so it will be able to show useful messages such as "O RLY?", "YA RLY!", full collection of lolcats, shock sites, giant emoticons and recordings of recent Fox News broadcasts for trolling purposes, photos of Iwo Jima flag and other similar images. To facilitate responses it should also include gang signs with translations, images of fast food and various versions of "Yankees, go home!" phrase, Fall of Saigon photo, multiplication table, and large amount of porn. This improved version of the device will b
  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @03:26AM (#22077694) Journal all translation devices up to day:

    Police: Ok Stan, this is a dangerous situation but our new Phraselator 4000 will deal with the situation, just talk into the mike:

    Stan: Everything will be just fine, just drop your weapons.
    Phraselator 4000: Every Bill be Your time, you topless weapon.
    Terrorist: Allah will punish you, infidel!
    Phraselator 4000: Allah will puke you, insurance!
    Stan: (looks at the other officers and talks)
    Stan: This is your second and final warning, drop down your weapons - NOW!
    Phraselator 4000: Piss is your semicolon and finally warm, top down groove you weapon - HOW?
    Stan: I don't think this is working, sir...
    Phraselator 4000: I don't think, piss is lurking, sir...
    Stan: Will you shut that useless piece of cr*p down!!
    Terrorist: In soviet russia - camel piss on you!

    (*everyone fires their guns, Phraselator 4000 has saved the day - once again*)
  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @03:40AM (#22077768) Homepage
    Darmack and Gillard at Tenagra! Shaka, when the walls fell.
  • All your base are belong to us.
    You are on the way to destruction.
    You have no chance to survive make your time.
  • Hey, this alien book says "how to serve man" - they must really like us!
  • Transportelator
    Photon torpedolator
    Tractelator Beam
    Warpelator Drive
  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@wo[ ] ['rld' in gap]> on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:18AM (#22079038) Homepage Journal
    Translating between related languages (such as western European languages which all derive mostly from Latin) is often a case of translating each word and re-arranging the sentence a little. It might sound a bit funny but will convey the meaning. Thus, all the translation software needs is a dictionary and some rules about converting word order in sentences.

    Translating between unrelated languages, such as English to Japanese, is much harder. Not only are the words different, but so are all the forms for expressing ideas. In English you might say "John is here", but in Japanese you would effectively say "as for John, here exists." In English you say "John has that book," in Japanese it becomes "at John that (other) book exists." (In Japanese you can say "that book you have" or "that other book", but just generally "that book".) The translation software has to actually understand the meaning of what is being said, in order to re-phrase it in the context of the target language.

    In fact, you do get a bit of that even in European languages. For example, in English we say "I am lost," but the French say "I have lost myself."
  • Well, now the cops can really make sure you understand them before they shoot you! Never forget Amadou Diallo!!!! []
  • I will not buy this record. It is scratched!
  • I would just like to thank the one who came up with the article tag "myhovercraftisfullofeels". Hilarious :)
  • One issue I can see coming from this: let's take the Spanish language as an example. I can tell you from personal experience that the Spanish you're likely to hear on the street will, at times, not resemble anything you've ever heard back in high school Spanish (thanks to slang and other factors). Not only that, but Spanish isn't going to be the same everywhere; there are many different dialects on this common language (hell, even East L.A. has it's own dialect, no joke); I'm not just talking about slang, I
  • 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.

    WTF?? That sentence made my head hurt. What was there a shortage on punctuation marks or something?

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun