CBS reports that with sensors covering his head, University of Texas at San Antonio graduate student Mauricio Merino concentrated hard. A camouflage-colored drone hovered with a soft hum in the middle of a campus research lab.
For now, though, it was fellow graduate student Prasanna Kolar who stood nearby to operate the unmanned aerial vehicle, also called a UAV, with a cellphone app â gently commanding it left and right.
The ultimate goal: Create a process to control the movements of groups of drones with nothing more than a thought, Daniel Pack, chairman of UTSAâs electrical and computer engineering department, told the San Antonio Express-News.
A team of researchers from the Unmanned Systems Laboratory in the universityâs electrical and computer engineering department recently scored a $300,000 contract from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to investigate how soldiers could use their brain signals to operate drones for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.
Pack said his research might help the Army lighten an already heavy load for soldiers in the field.
âIt becomes more burdensome to ask them to carry more things,â Pack said. âYou have to have a computer or a mechanism that you use to control the UAVs. But if you can do this without having them actually carry additional equipment and using brainwaves directly, then you are helping our soldiers.â
The military is making it easier than ever for soldiers to distance themselves from the consequences of war. When drone warfare emerged, pilots could, for the first time, sit in an office in the U.S. and drop bombs in the Middle East.
Now, one pilot can do it all, just using their mind â no hands required.
Earlier this month, DARPA, the militaryâs research division, unveiled a project that it had been working on since 2015: technology that grants one person the ability to pilot multiple planes and drones with their mind.
Pack envisions drone operators wearing EEG sensors in their helmets and giving commands far more complicated than a simple âmove leftâ or âmove right.â
For instance, he wants a soldier in the field to be able to scout for enemies by commanding a group of drones to âgo over the hill and see whatâs up there.â Then the soldier might receive information back from the drones through something akin to Google Glass.
âMultiple UAVs will autonomously, amongst themselves, say, âYou do this. I do this.â And they will either take pictures of it or get a situational awarenessâ of whatÂ lies behind the hill, all because of a command from a single thought, Pack said.
âAs of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control âŠ not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft,â Justin Sanchez, director of DARPAâs Biological Technologies Office, said, according to Defense One.
To try and figure out how to make this technology more accessible and not require surgical placement of a metal probe into peopleâs brains, DARPA recently launched the NExt-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program. The plan is to make a device with similar capabilities, but itâll look more like an EEG cap that the pilot can take off once a mission is done.
The department, which oversees everything pertaining to the U.S.âs national securityÂ and armed forces, has been tossing around the idea of establishing a center focused on artificial intelligence (AI) since October 2016. OnÂ June 27, the idea became a reality whenÂ Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a memoÂ officially establishingÂ the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC).
Shanahan wrote in an email to DoD employees, âPlenty of people talk about the threat from AI (Artificial Intelligence); we want to be the threat.â
Ref. CBS News, cbsnews.com, futurism.com, defenseone.com
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