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New Man-Machine Tech Gives Soldiers Super Vision

Oct 8, 2012

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The brainiacs at DARPA (the U.S. agency that funds military research projects) are at it again, this time upping the bar on man-machine interaction with a new type of visual scanning technology designed to give soldiers super vision.

Here’s how it works: The system has a 120-megapixel, tripod-mounted, electro-optical video camera with a 120-degree field of view. With an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that monitors signals from the operator’s brain, the technology’s “cognitive visual processing” algorithms processes these signals and identifies potential targets. The result? A technology that allows soldiers to be aware of threats far away even if they don’t “see” them.

The Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS) is designed to make life easier for soldiers (or as DARPA calls them, “warfighters”), whose lives depend on the ability to visually detect threats. The problem with tasking humans to scan their surroundings in a battlefield situation is that fatigue and vision limitations can be a major hurdle to their success. It turns out that even when soldiers are armed with binoculars, cameras, and portable radars, DARPA marks the missed threat rate at around 47 percent.

According to DARPA’s program manager Gill Pratt, “The [CT2WS] prototype system has demonstrated an extremely low false alarm rate, a detection rate in the low nineties, all while reducing the load on the operator.”

Despite what lawyers may argue in court, science shows that humans are actually pretty adept at witnessing and mentally recording the unusual. While we may not be consciously aware of it, our brains detect the appearance of movement or something unexpected, which triggers a brainwave — even if we don’t fully recognize what we’re seeing. The CT2WS system detects these brainwaves and uses algorithms to process the signal. This human “filtering,” combined with the algorithm technology, reduces the number of false alarms, and increases the reliability of the soldier’s situational awareness.

Next stop on the way to commercializing the technology is the Army’s Night Vision Lab in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. While the organization’s name (The Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate) may sound like typical “government speak,” its tagline/mission statement is about as plain English as it gets: “We own the night,” a claim made more real with help from this new man-machine “tag team” technology.

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