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Mind Over Matter: The Latest Developments in Brain Control Interfaces for Military

New era has arrived when people  use only their thoughts to control not only themselves, but the world around them. Every action our body performs begins with a thought, and with every thought comes an electrical signal. The electrical signals can be received by the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), which can electroencephalograph (EEG) or an implanted electrode, which can then be translated, and then sent to the performing hardware to produce the desired action.


Military Applications

A  recent RAND report assesses current and potential BCI applications for the U.S. military and offers recommendations to policymakers. The report defines BCI as a technology that allows a human brain and an external device to exchange signals.


The report identifies four categories of BCI applications: human-machine decision-making, human-to-human communication, system control, and performance enhancement and monitoring. The report evaluates the benefits and risks of each category using a national security game and expert interviews.


The report concludes that BCI can support ongoing DoD technological initiatives, but also poses ethical, legal, policy, safety, and trust challenges. The report recommends that DoD should monitor BCI developments, establish clear guidelines and oversight mechanisms, foster trust and transparency among stakeholders, and engage with international partners on BCI norms.


Today’s personnel, in defence and beyond, deal with more data (and more data sources) than ever before. The sheer volume of information, and all of the factors that need to be considered when evaluating a decision, can contribute to cognitive overload and analysis paralysis. This sees leaders become overwhelmed by the wealth of options presented, rendering them unable to decide on a clear route forward. From a military perspective, where fast, accurate decisions are crucial, this can lead to costly delays.


There are also several stresses, both internally and externally, that can burden military personnel – particularly those on front-line duty. Severe stress, left unchecked, can cloud judgement, hamper performance and facilitate decision making that is extreme and outside of a person’s normal nature. The development of BCIs is providing researchers with optimism that we’ll soon have tools to manage high-stress work environments, particularly through their ability to streamline information, and monitor and react to stimuli.


The  report, “Neuroscience, Conflict and Security”, formed part of a series that examined the impact of neuroscience on society, dealing specifically with the potential application of advances in neuroscience to the armed forces and security personnel.


A key advance in neuroscience has been improvements in real-time neuro-imaging, which can indicate in great detail which parts of the brain “light up” when undertaking certain activities. One of its applications could be to screen potential recruits for a specific role, for example to see if they are temperamentally suited to be a commander, pilot or diver.


“At the moment it’s very much a case of taking people on and subjecting them to high-stress exercises and choosing the ones who make it,” says Flower. “If they could be subjected to imaging during assessment you could identify who has good risk-taking behaviour, strategy and planning ability, or 3D analytical skills.” Brain scanning could also speed up and improve target recognition or identify changes in surveillance satellite images by recognising subconscious objective identification rather than an operator having to process and actively react.


“It has been discovered that when you show the brain different images, it spots the differences between them even though they may not reach conscious awareness,” says Flower. “Wearing a helmet like a hairnet can pick up a spike in brain activity which you can correlate to differences identified between two images, even if they were flashed up too quickly to process consciously.”


That potentially has the ability not only to speed up the process of target selection but also improve accuracy. It could also reduce problems associated with fatigue, which is a big issue facing people whose job involves scanning images for a long time, especially in the dark, such as surveillance UAV operators.


The military is interested in developing mind-controlled weaponry and remotely-piloted aircraft, which could make their operations and reactions far faster. The troops of tomorrow may be able to pull the trigger using only their minds. Mind-controlled weapons could allow soldiers to understand and act more quickly with the incredible speed of cyber warfare, missiles and other threats.


The obvious application for the military is mind-controlled weaponry and remotely-piloted aircraft, which could make operation and reactions far faster. “If you couple that with your subconscious mind being much faster at dealing with information you can see a situation sometime in the future where you’re not thinking about flying the aircraft, but your subconscious is doing it without interfering in any way,” says Flower. “You would probably have a much better appreciation of an incoming threat and fire off a couple of missiles without having to consciously think.”


Like automated weaponry and battlefield robotics, however, these new techniques could require an overhaul of ethical guidelines, especially with regards to civilian casualties. Currently the last person who gave the order to fire is responsible, but if it came from the operator’s subconscious, the line becomes blurred.


US DOD is now planning to teach AI to monitor its user’s level of stress, exhaustion, distraction, and so on helps the machine adapt itself to better serve the human — instead of the other way around. Teaching AI to instantly detect its user’s intention to give a command, instead of requiring a relatively laborious push of a button, helps the human keep control — instead of having to let the AI off the leash because no human can keep up with it.


“Making our robots wait for human permission would slow them down so much that enemy AI without such constraints would beat us,” said Frank Kendall Carter’s undersecretary of acquisition and technology. Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Paul Selva, calls this the “Terminator Conundrum.” Neuroscience suggests a way out of this dilemma: Instead of slowing the AIs down, make the humans’ orders come faster.


“Can we develop precise neurotechnologies that can go to those circuits in the brain or the peripheral nervous system in real time?” Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA‘s Biological Technologies Office said. “Do we have computational systems that allow us to understand what the changes in those signals (mean)? And can we give meaningful feedback, either to the person or to the machine to help them to do their job better?”


For in depth understanding on BCI  technology and applications please visit: Mind Beyond Limits: The Exciting Future of Brain-Computer Interface Technology



DARPA announced the project Silent Talk in 2009 with an initial budget of $4 million USD. The project aims to allow soldiers to communicate telepathically using BCI. The project involves analyzing neural signals that occur when people talk to themselves and translating them into messages that can be sent wirelessly to other soldiers.

The project also involves developing methods to send messages back to the brain, such as visual or auditory cues The project hopes to improve battlefield communication, coordination, and security by reducing noise and increasing speed and accuracy.


The US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created a brain-computer interface that enables a person to control everything from a swarm of drones to an advanced fighter jet using nothing but their thoughts and a special brain chip. In 2015, the basic principle of flying a plane using a surgically implanted microchip was demonstrated, but continued development of the brain-computer interface (BCI) has created a two-way connection enabling the pilot to not only send commands to the craft but also to receive signals.


Future systems might monitor the users’ nervous system and compensate for stress, fatigue, or injury.  “As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control… not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,” Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s biological technology office, said in Sep 2018 at the agency’s D60 Symposium in National Harbor, Maryland. “The signals from those aircraft can be delivered directly back to the brain so that the brain of that user [or pilot] can also perceive the environment,” Sanchez said at the symposium, which celebrated DARPA’s 60th birthday. “It’s taken a number of years to try and figure this out.”


Flying manned Aircrafts and Weaponized UAVs by Mind

The University of Florida recently held an event organizers claimed was the “world’s first brain drone race,” featuring unmanned aerial vehicles powered by the brain activity of contestants. The race was billed as a “competition of one’s cognitive ability and mental endurance requiring competitors to out-focus an opponent in a drone drag race fueled by electrical signals emitted from the brain.


Pilots don electroencephalogram headsets that are calibrated to each wearer’s brain. For example, neuron activity will be recorded when the wearer is told to think about pushing something forward. This activity is then bound to the forward stick on the drone’s controller, so future similar neuron activity will move the drone forward. “Organizers of the event describe BCI as “the utilization of a brain imaging device for the purpose of controlling machines with the human brain and to understand the human’s emotional condition or state.”University of Minnesota carried out a successful demonstration of a thought-controlled mini-helicopter capable of being piloted through obstacles with around 90% accuracy.


A team of engineers at Technische Universität München in Germany developed an algorithm that can convert brain waves into flight commands. The EEG cables sent electrical signals to a computer, which through mind-control algorithm; could target the pilot’s plane-control thoughts and the computer then converted the electric signals into an action that was carried out wirelessly. In future Soldiers would be able to control both manned aircraft and weaponized UAVs in all their phases of flight


A researcher from Arizona State University has found a way to control multiple drones using nothing but the power of thought.The controller wears a skull cap which contains hundreds of electrodes that are wired to a computer. The wearer then thinks specific commands, the computer translates them into instructions and the robots obey.

 Russian Scientists Develop Mind-Controlled Quadcopter

Zelenograd-based company Neurobotics has designed a Mind-controlled quadcopter, that is able to fly not only to four directions — forward, backwards, right and left — but it can also reach a specific target point, the report said. “Commands, or ‘conditions’ as we call them, are generated by the sensors on the head of an operator. The person thinks about certain actions at right moments which the system then recognizes and identifies,” Neurobotics director Vladimir Konyshev explained, as cited by the report.


The new technology has a great potential in the future. It would not only help a great deal to the Russian Armed Forces on the battlefield, but its interface could also be used to help people with limited mobility, Konyshev added. However, the basic limitations of current interfaces are that they allow only decoding of basic commands like left right. The future devices would be capable of capturing and decoding brain signals that are responsible for small, precise movements, to be able to accomplish complex task like landing an aircraft. The accuracy of the system is also required to be enhanced.

China Developing mind controlled robot Army

Students at the People’s Liberation Army Information Engineering University in Zhengzhou showed in a recent demonstration that they were able to control the movement of small robots using only their minds. At a demonstration at the People’s Liberation Army Information Engineering University in Zhengzhou, students used the device to send robots trundling in different directions. They were also able to turn the robot’s heads and get them to pick up objects. The Chinese army of the future could see robot soldiers controlled by military commanders’ minds.


The technology faces three major engineering challenges that need to be addressed before soldiers will be seamlessly controlling remote military robots in the battleground. First is need to enhance the efficiency and accuracy of  non-invasive BCIs that are slow and somewhat uncertain at present, secondly, they tend to make high cognitive demands on the user, and finally, especially for tele-operation via the internet, variable communication delays are a significant problem.


Until then, most of the systems being developed currently are adopting a ‘shared-control’ approach, equipping the robot agent with a degree of intelligence to allow it to work semi-autonomously.


The Australian army debuts a unique artificial intelligence to control robots with their minds

The Australian Army has developed a unique artificial intelligence (AI) system that enables soldiers to control robots using their minds. The system uses electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to capture the electrical activity of the brain and translate it into commands that can be used to operate the robots. The technology has been developed in collaboration with researchers from the University of Newcastle and is currently being trialed by the army. The goal of the technology is to improve the safety and effectiveness of soldiers in the field, by allowing them to remotely operate robots and complete tasks without putting themselves in harm’s way.


The AI system developed by the Australian Army and the University of Newcastle uses EEG technology to read the electrical activity of the brain and translate it into commands that can be used to control robots. Soldiers wear a cap fitted with electrodes that detect the electrical signals generated by the brain. The signals are then sent to a computer system that translates them into commands that can be used to control the robots.

The system has been designed to be easy to use and intuitive, allowing soldiers to control robots with minimal training. The army is currently trialing the system in a variety of scenarios to test its effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. The ultimate goal of the technology is to improve the safety and effectiveness of soldiers in the field, by allowing them to remotely operate robots and complete tasks without putting themselves in harm’s way.

According to the Australian Army, the technology has the potential to be used in a wide range of military applications, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and bomb disposal. The army is also exploring the use of the technology in other areas, such as disaster relief and search and rescue operations. However, there are also concerns about the ethical and legal implications of using robots in warfare, and it remains to be seen how this technology will be regulated and controlled in the future.



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