Portable Translation Gadgets Soon to Emerge

After decades of work, researchers have developed prototypes of wearable computers that can translate simple spoken conversation as it occurs. The first field tests of these devices are scheduled for later this year when U.S. soldiers and Marines tote separate versions on missions in the Balkans and South Korea.

No one expects these machines to perform nearly as well as a human translator, but they might be good enough to help a monolingual soldier carry on a simple conversation. Meanwhile, ViA, the maker of the device the Marines will test, plans to release commercial versions for $5,000 to $10,000 this fall, says Vice President Robert Palmquist. ViA (not to be confused with the Taiwanese chipmaker) has talked to airlines, hotel chains, and manufacturers that want better ways to communicate with customers and employees.

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