May 2, 2007

Future-Watch:-Pentagon to Merge Next-Gen Binoculars With Soldiers' Brains

Darpa+says+a+soldier%27s+brain+can+be+monitored+in+real+time%2C+with+an+EEG+picking+up+%22neural+signatures%22+that+indicate+target+detection.
Darpa says a soldier's brain can be monitored in real time, with an EEG picking up "neural signatures" that indicate target detection.
Image: Darpa

U.S. Special Forces may soon have a strange and powerful new weapon in their arsenal: a pair of high-tech binoculars 10 times more powerful than anything available today, augmented by an alerting system that literally taps the wearer's prefrontal cortex to warn of furtive threats detected by the soldier's subconscious.

In a new effort dubbed "Luke's Binoculars" -- after the high-tech binoculars Luke Skywalker uses in Star Wars -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is setting out to create its own version of this science-fiction hardware. And while the Pentagon's R&D arm often focuses on technologies 20 years out, this new effort is dramatically different -- Darpa says it expects to have prototypes in the hands of soldiers in three years.

The agency claims no scientific breakthrough is needed on the project -- formally called the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System. Instead, Darpa hopes to integrate technologies that have been simmering in laboratories for years, ranging from flat-field, wide-angle optics, to the use of advanced electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to rapidly recognize brainwave signatures.

In March, Darpa held a meeting in Arlington, Virginia, for scientists and defense contractors who might participate in the project. According to the presentations from the meeting, the agency wants the binoculars to have a range of 1,000 to 10,000 meters, compared to the current generation, which can see out only 300 to 1,000 meters. Darpa also wants the binoculars to provide a 120-degree field of view and be able to spot moving vehicles as far as 10 kilometers away.

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