Scientists from several universities in the United States are conducting experiments on a groundbreaking device that would let its users control machine interfaces with their brains.
The U.S. military has shown interest in using a “brain-computer interface strip” connected to the upper neck, reading brain signals to convert into digital information it uses to control vehicles or weapons, according to Defense One. The strip could potentially replace existing methods of translating a user’s electromagnetic brain signals, such as electroencephalography (EEG) caps.
“We demonstrated that this portable, flexible wearable system can control an electric wheelchair, mini-car and a software-presentation,” Woon-Hong Yeo, a researcher of the Georgia Institute of Technology, told Defense One.
While the device was created for those without mobility, but it has broader applications for military personnel.
“This system can be used for controlling other devices, including military equipment,” Woon-Hong added.
Top scientists in the United States have been working on thought-controlled devices since 2015, the Daily Star reported.
DARPA, the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is serious about its practical use, even though the aspect about reading individual’s thoughts is straight out of science fiction, reading the brain’s activity appears to be much more feasible.
“Imagine someone who’s operating a drone or someone who might be analyzing a lot of data,” said Jacob Robinson, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University, who is leading one of the teams helping to develop the devices back in May, according to Live Science.
In September 2018, DARPA showed a person with a surgically implanted chip was able to steer a host of drones. In a 2015 article by Wired.com DARPA revealed that a quadriplegic, Jan Sheuermann, could also control a virtual F-35 just by thinking about it.
Video footage reported by the Washington Post shows just how limited the device’s capabilities as a simulated plane controlled by Sheuermann’s thoughts endured a chaotic wobbling flight path.
Wired.com also noted, Sheuermann wouldn’t be able to pass a refueling test, let alone fight U.S. enemies in a real life situation.
Despite those current limitations, Darpa’s “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” research track is also pursuing other applications of the chip, such as assisting disabled veterans who can no longer use their limbs.
“We are thinking about exactly how to restore function after injury, how the brain can be used to actuate devices,” Justin Sanchez, the head of DARPA’s prosthetics research, told Wired.com.
Other researchers are more skeptical about DARPA, including John Donoghue, a pioneer in brain-computer interfaces at Brown University, who pointed out that DARPA’s development was without a peer review.
“I am interested in helping people with neurological disorders become independent and gain control of their own lives. This press item is more in the entertainment and video game sphere, based on what I see,” Donoghue told Wired.com in an email.