DARPA has developed a brain-computer interface that allows a single pilot to establish telepathic communication with a swarm of drones.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s research unit DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is interested in any new tech that could have bearing on American national security.
One of the most promising technologies that DARPA has been actively pursuing in these past years is drones, with some unusual takes, like the Gremlin drones, which speak of the missions the agency’s intending for them.
Parallel to being on the search for innovative drone ideas, DARPA is also developing ways to control drones.
Now it has a brain-computer interface (BCI) for drone pilots.
One BCI, Three Drones
Neuronal implants to augment the intellectual capacities of the human brain, to treat mood disorders, to enhance memory, or to control emotions… DARPA’s research into brain-computer interfaces is a wide field.
We owe DARPA the internet, GPS, and the first ever computer mouse, among many other things. Now, we may have to add a brain chip to control swarm drones to its long list of technological innovations.
In 2015, Jan Sheuermann, a quadriplegic woman, piloted a single-engine Cessna and, in another test, an F-35 fighter jet in flight simulator using only her thought and a BCI developed through DARPA-funded research.
Now, building on those neurosignaling experiments done with Sheuremann, researchers have scaled the system up so the pilot can control three aircraft at once.
The BCI also allow two-way communication as the pilot can send commands and receive information from the aircraft as well.
“As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control… not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft… The signals from those aircraft can be delivered directly back to the brain so that the brain of that user can also perceive the environment. It’s taken a number of years to try and figure this out,” said Dr. Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office on Thursday, Sept. 7, at the event celebrating the agency’s 60th birthday (D60 Symposium).
This is another milestone for DARPA that, since the 1970s, has been funding research to push the developments of brain-computer interface technology.
In 2016, in a partnership with the University of Florida, DARPA held the world’s first brain-drone race, where the contestants had to mind-control drones.