WASHINGTON — DARPA has awarded its first grants to six organizations that are to be the vanguard in developing non-invasive brain-machine interface tool — such as a headset — that would be used to quicken human decision making and actions during conflict.
The first recipients of the funds are Battelle Memorial Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Palo Alto Research Center, Rice University, and Teledyne Scientific. The amounts were not disclosed.
DARPA stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; it is the research and innovation wing of the Pentagon.
The goal of the Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program is to meet a “future in which a combination of unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, and cyber operations may cause conflicts to play out on timelines that are too short for humans to effectively manage with current technology alone,” DARPA said in a release.
Teams will use multiple approaches that use optics, acoustics, and electromagnetics to record neural activity, then ships signals to the brain at high speed and resolution. Some teams will focus on noninvasive interfaces external to the body. Other teams will center on minutely invasive interface systems “that can be temporarily and nonsurgically delivered to the brain to improve signal resolution,” DARPA said.
“Over the past decade, we’ve made remarkable progress with brain-machine interfaces,” DARPA said, in part, in a Tweet on Tuesday. “However, current interfaces require surgery to place electrodes in the brain. Today we announce six teams of researchers who will take us to the nonsurgical future of neurotechnology.”
DARPA said it wants the system ready in four years.
“Just as service members put on protective and tactical gear in preparation for a mission, in the future they might put on a headset containing a neural interface, use the technology however it’s needed, then put the tool aside when the mission is complete,” Al Emondi, the program manager, said in the press release.
Controlling drones is the example DARPA offered most frequently.
Specifically, the program is “seeking technologies that can read and write to brain cells in just 50 milliseconds round-trip, and can interact with at least 16 locations in the brain at a resolution of 1 cubic millimeter (a space that encompasses thousands of neurons),” DARPA said.
The N3 program has three phases. The first phase, underway immediately, requires teams to demonstrate the ability to read and write to brain tissue through the skull. Phase two requires the development of working devices and testing on animals. Phase three will be human testing, DARPA said.
Teams have to succeed at each level to move to the next phase.