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With the help of a new hand-held computer, the frustrating "language barrier" that prevents people from different countries and regions from speaking to one another may become a thing of the past.

A new computer called Voice, manufactured by Advanced Products and Technologies Inc. in Redmond, Wash., packs an array of sophisticated technologies into a small, four-pound box that can translate English into German, Spanish, Italian or French moments after the words are spoken.The device, which will be marketed in the late summer, is the brainchild of West Coast entrepreneur and computer wiz Stephen Rondel, chairman and chief executive officer of Advanced Products and Technologies.

At the present stage, Voice has its limitations. It cannot translate back from another language into English and its capacity is limited to 2,000 phrases in each language. It costs $1,500, and each user must spend at least an hour familiarizing the device with his or her voice.

However, Rondel plans to expand Voice's capabilities and add new languages to the program.

"Language is a major impediment to cooperation and peace," he told Reuters in an interview. In his view, people would be better off studying cultural differences among various peoples instead of memorizing vocabulary and grammatical minutae.

Advanced Products and Technologies, whose stock is traded over the counter, started out making a line of travel products for the traveler who cannot bear to be without even the smallest conveniences. The firm manufactures a wide range of products, from a portable cappucino-maker to an electric shaver which "uses sound to guide the user to whiskers," its catalogue claims.

But the firm's core interest is in the development and application of sophisticated voice-recognition technology. Rondel said the travel product line was simply a means to establish a distribution network for Voice, which he calls his real "baby".

He expects Voice will power Advanced Products' growth in the future. "Last year, our first year as a public company, we did $1.8 million in revenues. We'll have that in orders within a few weeks," he said.

Rondel said demand for Voice, which should start making shipments on Aug. 21, will help quadruple the company's revenues within a year.

For competitive reasons, Rondel would not discuss the machine's inner-workings except to say that Voice uses "revolutionary concepts." He said the company is seeking patents on the hardware and software, which were designed in-house.

The hardware was custom-designed because the software the firm had developed was so sophisticated that it could not run on conventional computer hardware. Rondell cited an instance three years ago when it took an IBM personal computer hooked up to the software 20 minutes just to recognize the letter "A".

Rondel said he was unaware of any real competition for his product. "There is no product like this that we know of. We've been to Europe (and) our people in Japan don't know of any such thing," he said.

Advanced Products and Technologies plans to develop a full line of products based on the new technology, including a commercial system enabling the user to speak to a computer and retrieve information without need of a keyboard.