Multilingual force

Published: Saturday 15 March 1997

American troops are currently using computers that can give instant translations of foreign-language documents. Armed with the new device called the Forward Area Language Converter (Falcon), they will be able to assess the significance of any papers they discover, by simply feeding them into a scanner and reading the text in English on a computer screen. Falcon weighs just 15.89 kg and is not much larger than the laptop computer on which it is based. It is one of a number of technologies developed by the US army which will soon find civilian applications. An early prototype of Falcon was used by US troops in Haiti to translate French and Spanish documents into English. The current device, with US troops in Bosnia, has a vocabulary of 49,000 Serbo-Croat words and can also translate Portuguese, Italian, Russian and German. Data on the documents are digitised by a scanner with advanced optical character recognition before being processed by the software, which translates and displays the text.

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