War is never pleasant. There is a huge risk to property and more importantly, life. No country wants their people to die in war. But as long as war exists, can we avoid deaths? Up to a certain extent, we definitely can. Militaries these days are trying their best to keep as many people away from the battlefield as they possibly can. And how can they even do this? Drones. When drone warfare emerged, pilots could sit in an office in their home country and drop bombs anywhere in the world. Now, one person can do it all without ever even using their hands. Or entering a battlefield for that matter. The United States’ DARPA has unveiled a project that it’s been working on since 2015. They are developing a technology that allows a single human to control multiple planes or drones.
“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 Technologies Office, said, according to Defense One.
This project was recently revealed at DARPA’s 60th-anniversary event. Although the project has just recently been revealed to the public, the team has been working behind the scenes for years now. Back in 2016, a volunteer equipped with a brain-computer interface (BCI) was able to pilot an aircraft in a flight simulator while keeping two other planes in formation. And all this without even using his hands. He could control the aircrafts with just his thoughts. In 2017, another person could successfully steer a plane using this technology, but this time while also receiving haptic feedback. If the plane needed to be steered in a certain direction, the neural implant would create a tingling sensation in his hands.
NOT QUITE MAGNETO
But, there’s a catch. Because this technology uses electrodes implanted in the brain, experimentation is limited to volunteers with varying degrees of paralysis. The only people who can volunteer are people who either already have brain electrodes or have a reason to undergo surgery. And that does seem fair.
It’s necessary to figure out how to make this technology easier to implement. We must find a method that bypasses the use of brain electrodes. DARPA recently launched the NExt-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program. The plan is to make a device with similar capabilities, but it’ll look more like an EEG cap. You wouldn’t need brain implants anymore, just wear the device on your head when you need to control some planes, and remove it when you don’t.
“The envisioned N3 system would be a tool that the user could wield for the duration of a task or mission, then put aside,” said Al Emondi, head of N3, according to the spokesperson. “I don’t like comparisons to a joystick or keyboard because they don’t reflect the full potential of N3 technology, but they’re useful for conveying the basic notion of an interface with computers.”