[From the increasing use of pacemakers to keep heart beating on time to the rise of Olympian runner Oscar Pistorius (a.k.a. "Blade Runner"), a double-amputee who uses two prosthetic lower legs called "blades," the merging of human and machine continues apace. In this month's series, "Bionic Man," 13.7 takes a broad look at the history, evolution, ethics and impact of prosthetic and bionic engineering, nanotechnology, cybernetics and technological singularity.]
The U.S. Army and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the new technology wing of the Department of Defense, have finished field testing next-generation binoculars that actually read soldiers' brain signals.
The Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS)—developed with Malibu, California-based HRL Laboratories—is described by DARPA as a "soldier-portable visual threat detection device" which not only surveys the area in a soldier's field of vision, but also scans his brainwaves, accessing the power of the subconscious mind in identifying danger.
Current technologies like standard binoculars and portable radars have a threat detection miss rate of 47 percent or more, leaving soldiers in harm's way. But the CY2WS has resulted in a threat detection success rate of over 90 percent. And by incorporating a radar system into the loop, target detection in field tests reached 100 percent.
"Because CT2WS uses the operator's 'brain-in-the-loop,' it detects threats that are context-specific and operator-specific, making it applicable and adaptable to a variety of conditions," said Dr. Deepak Khosla, senior scientist in HRL's Information System Sciences Laboratory and program manager for CT2WS.
According to DAPRA:
"CT2WS built on the concept that humans are inherently adept at detecting the unusual. Even though a person may not be consciously aware of movement or of unexpected appearance, the brain detects it and triggers the P-300 brainwave, a brain signal that is thought to be involved in stimulus evaluation or categorization. By improving the sensors that capture imagery and filtering results, a human user who is wearing an EEG cap can then rapidly view the filtered image set and let the brain’s natural threat-detection ability work."Oh, and it also includes a 120 megapixel video camera with a 120-degree field of view to record what soldiers see.
As with so many technologies which are first developed by the military and then end up having some commercial use as well (e.g., the internet), the EEG-reading technology in the CT2WS could one day help civilians detect threats more easily, like when they are driving.