Monday, January 28, 2008

Brain Scanning - Another Step Toward DARPA Super-Soldiers

Darpa Pursues Neuroscience To Enhance Analyst, Soldier Performance
By David Hughes
Aviation Week

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is researching how computers reading brain waves may one day speed up the ways intelligence analysts detect targets in satellite images and also alert platoon leaders when soldiers are losing situational awareness.

In a summary of her programs at the annual DarpaTech conference in 2005, Kruse spelled out the importance of the work: “The operational environment will continue to become more crowded with information, so it is clear that our war fighters must be able to manage complex situations with faster, more accurate and more concentrated cognitive capabilities. This means that issues such as cognitive overload, fatigue and decision-making under stress are fast becoming crucial factors in performance.”

The latest project Kruse has been working on is the Neurotechnology for Intelligence Analysts (NIA) program. This effort builds on an earlier one titled Augmentated Cognition, or AugCog. One of the leading contractors on both efforts has been Honeywell.

Under a $4-million, multiphase contract, the company has been developing what it calls the Honeywell Image Triage System (HITS) for Darpa. Bob Smith, vice president for advanced technology at Honeywell Aerospace, explains that HITS takes a satellite image and breaks it up into smaller image “chips” that can be shown to an intelligence analyst like flash cards at a rate of 5-20 images per second.

The NIA project aims to help the intelligence community deal with the growing problem of having an enormous amount of “visual media” flowing in for review. It is currently taking the analysts too long to turn the data into usable information that can be acted on by decision-makers and war fighters.

Kruse says the NIA project found that sorting through 5-10 images per second is possible. There were eight contractors participating in phase one, and phase two is just beginning with three teams led by Teledyne Scientific and Imaging, Columbia University and Honeywell.

The target for phase three is a prototype designed for use by an intelligence agency. This “customer” could keep the prototype and try it out after the research is completed. The technology is nearly ready for operational use and there is a big incentive to get it into the field because it solves a problem analysts face every day.

Smith says Honeywell equipped infantry soldiers with brain and physiological sensors and monitored the soldiers during field training exercises at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground. The brain sensors were an EEG and a “functional near-infrared” sensor to monitor activity in the frontal lobe. The physiological sensors included ones for the heart (electrocardiogram) and eyes. The data was used to determine workload, state of cognitive activity and the soldier’s level of attentiveness at a particular time.

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