Navy Shows Off Hi-Tech Gadgets


It's Fleet Week in New York, where for the last 19 years, thousands of sailors and Marines have hit the city to blow off steam, and even more civilians get the chance to see some of the military's newest technologies, even those still under construction.

This year the Office of Naval Research, which has partnered with companies both public and private to keep our fighting men and women on the cutting edge, showed off some high-tech gadgets that could be making their way to the private sector sometime soon.

Though a super-sonic cruise missile is unlikely to be available at your local Costco or Wal-Mart, translation and communication technology on display could change how and with whom we speak.

A Computer That Speaks a Dozen Languages

In one corner of the USS Kearsarge, a massive aircraft carrier spending the week docked at Pier 88 in Manhattan, one of the Navy's most exciting projects lives, unimpressively, in a commercial laptop on a small banquet table.

But what is simply known as Restore and Interact is anything but unimpressive.

Restore is a program that can restitute wrinkled, stained and doodled-on foreign-language documents, like the ones soldiers find all the time in Iraq, to their original form.

Then comes the "wow" part. The program interprets and then translates the document into English, or another chosen language.

"In a matter of a few seconds, the document is cleaned and translated," explained Sean Lanahan, business development manager for SpeechGear Inc., the company behind the technology.

But Lanahan said that's only one part of its overall goal.

"Our mission is to be able to translate anything you hear, read, say, write or type," he said.

To that end, the second part of SpeechGear's project, Interact, is a voice translator more advanced than anything you've seen before.

If you speak into a microphone, the computer understands what you say, and with just a few clicks of the mouse or by just tapping the buttons using a touch pad or tablet PC, the software translates what you've said into text but also verbally translates it, speaking in a synthesized voice.

"We have two Arabic dialects, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian and we're working on Chinese," Lanahan said. "We want to give people the ability to translate two-way, spontaneous, free-form speech for conversation."

Because languages like English and Arabic are so different, the company has focused on retaining the meaning of what's being said rather than a direct translation that might be difficult to understand.

Lanahan said the technology is already in use in the field, at checkpoints and such, and could be used at border crossings, by customs, local law enforcement and, of course, by civilians who just don't speak the same language.

Communicating by Line of Sight

Also on display on the Kearsarge was a new way to help ships communicate over long distances using a set of binoculars and a device that attaches to the eye pieces.

Using LED technology like the type found in your television remote-control, LightSpeed can transmit voice and data over about 2½ miles, as long as the recipient and the person sending the signal are within the same range of vision.

"In the field, there are a variety of conditions they [military personnel] can't speak in," explained Greg Hays, chief technology officer for SPAWAR -- Space and Naval Warfare Systems.

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