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Top 5 Gadgets on the High-tech Soldier

        Science | Soldiers

iPod Touch
Apple scored a major commercial hit with the iPod Touch, which the U.S. military is utilizing on some missions.
Apple scored a major commercial hit with the iPod Touch, which the U.S. military is utilizing on some missions.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

Aside from a rifle, an iPod Touch or iPhone might eventually be one of the most important tools a U.S. soldier carries. If you doubt that a consumer product could really be that vital in war zones, keep in mind that iPods aren't just music players -- they're miniature computers with an established history of adaptability and durability.

Military uses for iPods are virtually endless. iPods have a large range of potential functions, and authorities and software developers can team up to develop new applications (or apps, in Apple-speak) for just about any sort of task. Plus, because most soldiers have already used an iPod Touch, training sessions and their associated costs are minimal.

In fact, the Army has been using iPods for years. One program, called Vcommunicator Mobile, displays phrases and words appropriate for a variety of situations a soldier might encounter. It displays text on an iPod's screen and pumps audio through a portable speaker to help the soldier communicate in languages such as Kurdish and Arabic. The app even displays animations of gestures appropriate for certain phrases [source: Lowe].

Snipers like a ballistics calculator called BulletFlight. They simply enter range and atmospheric details, and the software generates vital details for an accurate shot. An upgraded version even shows impact energy, flight time and other valuable information [source: Sutherland].

Other apps will enable teleconferencing, or may even turn an iPod into a remote control for bomb disposal robots. Further developments will let soldiers take a photo of a landmark and subsequently receive intelligence about their surroundings, including everything from local power availability to images of suspected insurgents.

That's really just boot camp for the iPod's military career. With more research and better software, these humble music players will help soldiers complete dozens of other tasks and, in the process, save lives on the battlefield, too.