TSA is Testing a Smart Language Translator at US Airports; Good for non-English Speaking Travelers from India

Indians in the US do often look for travel companions for their parents arriving from India so that the latter can be assisted through immigration and other checkpoints on arrival at bustling US airports. High-in-demand wheelchair assistance is the other option that NRIs rely on to ensure their elderly parents’ smooth navigation through language barriers at US airports. Neither of the options – travel companion and wheelchair service – is easily available during peak season. Therefore, the excitement for a reunion with parents, most of whom do neither speak nor understand English, is fraught with apprehensions.

However, a welcome relief is on the horizon for non-English speaking travelers from India and other countries. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is conducting a pilot trial of an innovative hand-held device for real-time language translation and interpretation. The device can facilitate communication between travelers with limited English proficiency and TSA officers, thereby ensuring a hassle-free airport experience for the former and operational efficiency for the latter.

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TSA officers are currently using the language translation technology at Philadelphia International Airport. The smart hand-held device, smaller than a mobile phone, can translate messages and/or instructions into as many as 83 languages, including Hindi. It also helps TSA officers communicate to those with hearing difficulty and visual impairment, as it displays security instructions on a small screen and renders audio versions too. Precisely, the airport experience is all set to be transferred for both non-English speakers and the specially-abled.

If TSA officers need to check the carry-on bag of an Indian traveler who does not understand English at all, they can speak into the device which, in turn, will display and read out the instruction in Hindi. Similarly, the traveler can respond in English through the device. It’s that simple! The cutting-edge device can save up to 10,000 pre-programmed messages and their translations in 83 languages.

What other Indian languages, in addition to Hindi, are supported by the TSA’s translation-interpretation device? Although this is not specified yet, TSA assures that the device will add more languages and words to its library through regular software updates. Five such devices have been deployed at Philadelphia Airport’s busiest checkpoints across international terminals, A-East and A-West, and Terminals B and DE (which also operate domestic flights). The devices are rechargeable and portable.

Hope the device will be rolled out to immigration checkpoints at US airports once it proves to be viable in translating colloquial English phrases such as ‘pat-down’. The language translation device would come to the rescue of non-English-speaking senior citizens from India and other countries, who may face a sort of interrogation by CBP officers during immigration clearance at entry airports in America. It seems that a pleasant post-arrival experience awaits Hindi-speaking Indian travelers at US airports.

Recently, Turkish Airlines, one of the few best airlines offering transit stopovers, launched SmartMic translation devices at its hub airport in Istanbul. The smart device, well-versed in 52 languages and 72 accents, is aimed at eliminating the communication gap between foreign passengers and the staff at Istanbul Airport. It is anticipated that other airlines, like British Airways, American Airlines, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, and Cathay Pacific operating flights from India to USA, take a cue from TSA and Turkish Airlines.

2 thoughts on “TSA is Testing a Smart Language Translator at US Airports; Good for non-English Speaking Travelers from India

  1. Deepika Jaiswal

    I hope the device is released soon. I was coming back to the US with an immigration and security check at the Chicago airport. It was painful to watch senior citizens in wheelchairs and long lines with no water and bathroom access wait in line for additional security checks of their luggage as they were unable to communicate and answer the officers. This device may help travelers with communication barriers, making their journey less worrisome.
    Thank you.

    • indianeagle Post author

      Hi Deepak! We could not agree more. Such devices are pressing solutions of the hour for senior citizens’ hassle-free arrival at foreign airports.


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