Road Trip 2010: CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman went to the birthplace of the Internet and saw some of the innovations BBN Technologies is working on for soldiers.
Boomerang III mast
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--In the 1960s, BBN Technologies, a research and development company here in this town dominated by MIT and Harvard, created the packet switch and ARPANET, and arguably got the Internet Age under way.
Over the years, the company has continued to innovate, and is today the No. 1 contractor for DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advance Research Projects Agency. It was bought in 2009 by Raytheon.
These days, the company has nearly 800 employees and it is working on dozens of projects across a wide spectrum of disciplines.
During a Road Trip 2010 visit, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman got a chance to see three of them: The Boomerang III, a system designed to give combat soldiers a nearly instantaneous report on where gunfire directed at them has come from--something that is critical in urban warfare where it is hard to hear and where gunshot blasts can echo off buildings; an instant English to Pashto or Arabic translation system that allows soldiers to have a simple conversations with a non-English speaker in Iraq or Afghanistan; and a Multimedia Monitoring System, that automatically records, indexes, and monitors multimedia news coming across the Internet.
This is the mast of Boomerang III, the third iteration of the mobile acoustic shot detection system.
Since Boomerang was first developed in 2003, it has always been a mounted system that is bolted onto a vehicle. But now, BBN has come up with a small shoulder-mounted version of the technology, shown here by David Schmitt, director of programs in BBN's Omega Division. A soldier can wear this version as he walks, allowing him to have the same situational awareness when outside his vehicle.
Another BBN project is this smartphone software system which can perform on-the-fly translation from English to either Pashto or Arabic. Based on a 40,000-word vocabulary, it can do nearly instant translation in both directions of simple phrases and conversation. This is designed to make it possible for American soldiers to have short discussions with locals in Afghanistan or Iraq, even if neither speaks the other's language.
The system--seen here installed on a Nexus One--maintains an archive of the conversation, as well as transcripts. Seen here is the English side of a discussion.
And while this technology has been around for a few years, BBN has reached new milestones recently in its ability to conduct unrehearsed conversations and have them be accurately translated most of the time.
Another BBN project that has been around for a few years, but which has recently celebrated new milestones in innovation is the Multimedia Monitoring System, seen here, which can be used to automatically monitor, translate, and index online news feeds.