Translating Soldier Thoughts to Computer Commands


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The Army Research Laboratory is funding research that would enable troops to communicate via a cellphone or radio without uttering a sound or moving a finger.

And if researches can fully exploit brain-computer interface – a technology that already exists and has enabled paralyzed individuals to move robotic arms – with increasingly advanced and sophisticated algorithm software, it could lead to direct control of military systems by thought alone, according to Dr. Liyi Dai, program manager in the Computer Sciences Division at ARL’s Army Research Office at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

“ARL recognizes that BCI is an emerging area with a high potential for revolutionizing the way we communicate with machines and that the potential exists for larger scale real-world applications such as brain-based communication through everyday devices,” Dai said in a recent feature from the lab’s press office.

The laboratory is funding two projects as part of the goal, the release states. One is to develop a prototype system for detecting imagined speech and monitoring a user’s attention and orientation by recording brain activity in real time, it states.

The other seeks to understand physiological biomarkers of brain signals for imagined speech detection, the feature states. If successful, that would allow researchers to design computational algorithms to extract biomarkers, or features, for imagined speech detection: a way for a program to know the user’s thoughts, it states.

Currently the two most common ways for recording brain activity for brain-computer interface includes noninvasive electroencephalography, or EEG, with an array of electrodes placed along the scalp, and a more invasive system – in which electrodes are placed directly on the exposed surface of the brain, according to the release.

But both systems work successfully only in lab settings for now, while the military will require technologies to work in real-world, operational environments, it states.

Army laboratory researchers also have to develop a feedback mechanism so that operators will know why a certain thought command did not execute, according to the release. With a feedback mechanism in place, he said, a user would able to overcome a problem by adjusting his thoughts, it states.

--Bryant Jordan can be reached at

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