Life imitates art, inÂ defense tech no less thanÂ in society. In the 1982 techno-thriller film “Firefox,” Clint Eastwood steals a fictional Soviet fighter jet called the “MiG-31 Firefox,” a Mach 6-capable stealth fighter he piloted withÂ his thoughts. But now inÂ 2018, the US military has gone even further: you can control a whole group ofÂ drones or fighter jets withÂ your thoughts.
In 2015, the basic principle ofÂ flying a plane using a surgically implanted microchip was demonstrated, butÂ continued development ofÂ the brain-computer interface (BCI) has created a two-way connection enabling the pilot toÂ not only send commands toÂ the craft butÂ also toÂ receive signals.
“As ofÂ today, signals fromÂ the brain can be used toÂ command and controlâ€¦ not just one aircraft butÂ three simultaneous types ofÂ aircraft,” Justin Sanchez, director ofÂ DARPA’s biological technology office, said Thursday atÂ the agency’s D60 Symposium inÂ National Harbor, Maryland.
“The signals fromÂ those aircraft can be delivered directly back toÂ the brain so that the brain ofÂ that user [or pilot] can also perceive the environment,” Sanchez said atÂ the symposium, which celebrated DARPA’s 60th birthday. “It’s taken a number ofÂ years toÂ try and figure this out.”
“We’ve scaled it toÂ three [aircraft], and have full sensory [signals] coming back. So you can have those other planes outÂ in the environment and then be detecting something and send that signal back intoÂ the brain,” he said, according toÂ Defense One.
A 2012 grant provided DARPA with $4 million toÂ build a non-invasive “synthetic telepathy” interface that uses a skin-tight cap loaded withÂ electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors toÂ pick upÂ electrical signals inÂ the user’s brain’s motor centers.
In April 2016, developers atÂ the University ofÂ Florida working underÂ DARPA’s aegis held the first BCI drone race inÂ history. Working withÂ colleagues atÂ the University ofÂ Arizona, they have been pioneering the partnership betweenÂ BCI piloting and the Pentagon’s Gremlin drone swarm concept, The Science Explorer reported inÂ 2016.
“We started withÂ the idea ofÂ human-swarm interaction; we record it fromÂ the brain,” Panagiotis Artemiadis, director ofÂ the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab atÂ ASU said inÂ a video produced byÂ the university. “We actually saw that the brain really cares aboutÂ collective behaviors ofÂ swarms, and now we know where toÂ record fromÂ and what toÂ see fromÂ the brain signals inÂ order toÂ decode that toÂ collective behaviors forÂ aerial vehicles and swarms ofÂ robots.”
Defense One noted that the technology could be used toÂ drive medical breakthroughs inÂ brain-based communication, control ofÂ prosthetic limbs, memory repair and helping paralyzed people regain control overÂ their bodies.