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Pentagon Wants Brain-Stimulating Headset to Improve Combat Skills


The Pentagon's new innovation unit will be testing a high-tech headset to see whether it can make special operators even better fighters, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday.

Carter said the controversial theory behind the experimental headset is that it "uses non-invasive electrical stimulation" to improve the brain's learning skills, which could translate into more powerful operators

The "enhanced human operations" headset project, developed by Halo Neuroscience to improve the brain's ability to adapt, was funded by the Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental), or DIUx, the Carter initiative intended to connect the Pentagon with cutting-edge technology and keep the U.S. ahead of competitor nations.

The company claims its new Halo Sport headset builds on research already conducted by the armed forces.

"The U.S. military accelerated pilot and sniper training by 50 percent with neurotechnology similar to Halo Sport," its website states. "We're bringing these gains to athletics."

Carter spoke in Boston, where he opened the first East Coast DIUx branch and also announced that Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief executive and owner of The Washington Post, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan, would be joining the Defense Innovation Advisory Board.

The board already includes Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet Inc.; Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn; and retired Adm. William McRaven, the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command who organized the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Carter launched DIUx last year at Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California, to improve outreach to Silicon Valley in what the Pentagon called a "ground-breaking effort to strengthen connections to the American innovation economy and speed technologies into the hands of the warfighter."

The effort got off to a slow start and Carter reorganized it in May, putting it under his personal control and naming Rajiv Shah, an F-16 pilot in the Air Force National Guard who most recently was the senior director of strategy at computer firewall maker Palo Alto Networks, as head of DIUx.

"I am proud to announce that in its first 75 days, the new DIUx has made tremendous progress in rebuilding bridges to the technology community," Shah said. "We've demonstrated that DoD can be just as nimble and innovative as the companies we want to do business with."

Carter has asked for $30 million in the defense budget for DIUx, which he said will now be organized into three teams.

A Venture Team will identify emerging commercial technologies and explore their potential impact on the battlefield; a Foundry Team will identify technologies that aren't yet fully developed for military applications; and an Engagement Team will introduce innovators to military problems and the military to entrepreneurs, Carter said.

The new East Coast office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will put DIUx in a city that is "home to a tremendous legacy of service -- one that will continue in a new way with DIUx," Carter said. "It's a testament to the fact that Boston has always been a place where great minds and great ideas come together to help advance the safety and security of our country."

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