US Army Invests in 'Thought Helmet' Technology for Voiceless Communication

Sep 22, 2008 by Lisa Zyga weblog
thought helmet
A thought helmet (not pictured) could allow soldiers to silently and securely issue and receive commands. Image credit: Jeff Corwin Photography, Boeing.

In the future, soldiers may be communicating silently with sophisticated "thought helmets." The devices would harness a person´s brain waves and transmit them as radio waves, where they would be translated into words in the headphones of other soldiers.

The US Army has recently awarded a five-year $4 million contract to researchers from the University of California at Irvine (led by UCI´s Mike D´Zmura), Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland to study the concept. It will likely be a decade or two before the thought helmet becomes a reality, but the rough technology is already under investigation. Researchers have been working on other brain-computer interfaces, such as Emotiv Systems´ brain-wave headset for video games, which is expected to be available commercially next summer.

The Army's version would of course be more sophisticated and reliable than the gaming headset. To make the thought helmet a feasible piece of equipment for soldiers, scientists need to combine advances in computing power together with our understanding of the human brain.

At the moment, the thought helmet concept consists of 128 sensors buried in a soldier´s helmet. Soldiers would need to think in clear, formulaic ways, which is similar to how they are already trained to talk. The key challenge to making the system work is a software system that can read an electroencephalogram (EEG) generated by the sensor data, and pick out when a soldier is thinking words, and what those words are.

Because the brain is a complex system and generates such large amounts of data, researchers must also make improvements in computing power. Soldiers will also have to be trained to think "loudly" to make it easier for the system to pick out their words from the brain´s background noise. Also, every individual´s EEG signals are a little different, so users and computers will have to be calibrated so that computers recognize each person´s unique mental pattern.

In early versions, recipients will most likely hear messages rendered by a robotic voice in their headphones. But the researchers also think it´s possible to render commands in the speaker´s own voice, as well as indicate the location of the speaker relative to the listener.

For people concerned about the ethics of the technology, Elmar Schmeisser, the Army neuroscientist overseeing the program, reassures that the technology will not allow mind-reading. As he explains, since every user has to be trained with the system, it would be impossible to use the technology against an individual´s will and without their cooperation.

Instead, the researchers are interested in potential civilian benefits. One such application might be a Bluetooth headpiece which could read speakers´ thoughts and transmit them to the person they´re calling - eliminating those loud, one-sided conversations in public.

via: Engadget and Time

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User comments : 12

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Modernmystic
3 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2008
Looking at that picture reminds me somehow of the Christopher Walken movie "Brainstorm". Good flick...scary stuff.
ShadowRam
5 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2008
With my OCZ NIA, I plan on trying to get 'push-to-talk' function and channel selection working first.

Even simple functions such as these are a huge step in being able to communicate quickly without the need to fumble with switches/buttons
Mayday
5 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2008
Great for movie theater chatters. And for parents to silently yell at their kids in museums.
TJ_alberta
5 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2008
does it come with a bluetooth attachment so we won't have to listen to other peoples cell phone conversations?
Roach
4.7 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2008
Not to be overly base, but we're talking about puting thought readers on a bunch of guys who haven't seen their wives, girlfriends etc in months, and broadcasting these thoughts to everyone else? I guess as long as it can't translate/relay the visuals.
earls
4.5 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2008
Haha Roach. "Don't ask, don't tell." I COULDN'T HELP IT!!!
slash
not rated yet Sep 23, 2008
Hmm, why do they bother to translate the recorded brainwaves back into voice? If they do that they could just as well use a mobile!

Why not project the commands right into the receiver's brain? *That* would be a feat! It would remove the awkward neccessity for the receiver to always wear headphones. And it would also be much more helpful in the suggested application - talking to each other in noisy environs.
Mayday
not rated yet Sep 23, 2008
I would love it if the candidates had to wear these during the upcoming debates.

And imagine the uses for this in court rooms and police interrogation. Yike-o-mighty!

And I really like the idea of "training soldiers to think loudly." That's off the hook.
Mayday
not rated yet Sep 23, 2008
slash, they can't just use a mobile because human beings lack the innate ability to speak quietly while on a mobile. It's programmed deeply into our genes that we must TALK LIKE THIS when we are on a mobile. It's much easier to "train the soldiers to think loudly" than to train them talk quietly into a mobile.
Roach
not rated yet Sep 29, 2008
Mayday, You are a genius, How do we get these on buses, in airports, and in restaurants sooner? I'll be more than happy to assist in the application of these to every loud taker in every restaurant. Pro bono. If you let me apply them with a baseball bat I'll work the overtime for free too.
seversky
not rated yet Sep 30, 2008
Do we even know if this is feasible? The article wasn't clear on that really. It just said the military is investigating the technology. Emotiv's headset looks pretty cool, but it's nowhere near what the article is talking about. Also, it's not clear whether the technology is intended to recognize specific words, or whether it is supposed to somehow decipher the "sound waves" in our brains.
bmcghie
not rated yet Oct 01, 2008
What the heck is wrong with the subvocalizing throat mike? With a jawbone-conduction ear piece? Tell me how anyone overhears those conversations, then we'll have a basis for this research. Not that I'm against the whole mind-reading thing... but when you hear things like "training soldiers to think loudly...in clear and formulaic ways." You just have to giggle a little bit.

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