Forward-looking: Imagine if soldiers could communicate with each other through thought alone, using only their brainwaves. The US Army is pouring millions into research that could make the frankly terrifying scenario a reality, and the first breakthrough has already been made.

As reported by C4isrnet, the US Army Research Office has put up $6.25 million in funding for the project over the next five years. It is being led by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Berkeley; Duke University; and New York University, along with several from the UK.

The research has already been successful in separating brain signals that influence action or behavior from other brain signals. By using an algorithm and complex mathematics, the team could identify which brain signals were related to behavior and remove them from those that were classed as irrelevant.

By identifying these brain signals, it could lead to the creation of a machine able to interpret them and provide feedback, allowing a soldier to take corrective action before something happens. Hamid Krim, a program manager for the Army Research Office, gave the example of stress and fatigue signals that are given out by the brain before someone realizes they are stressed or tired. The technology could let soldiers know they need a break ahead of time.

The other potential application for the research is for silent, fast communication. By just thinking about an action, it could be interpreted by a computer and relayed to a teammate or a commander. “So you and I are out there in the theater and we have to [...] talk about something that we’re confronting,” explained Krim. “I basically talked to my computer — your computer can be in your pocket, it can be your mobile phone or whatever — and that computer talks to [...] your teammate’s computer. And then his or her computer is going to talk to your teammate.”

Tests on separating brain waves have already been carried out on monkeys, but don’t expect to see the technology populating battlefields for a few more decades.

Image credit: Getmilitaryphotos