In the wars of the future, solider’s eyes alone won’t be enough to hunt down insurgents. They’ll need a little bit of extra help from the new brain wave-powered binoculars that DARPA just invented. Nicknamed the “Luke Skywalker” binoculars when they were first being developed, these things can not only see for miles but also work in tandem with an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap worn by the soldiers to improve enemy detection. And you thought Google Glass was cool.
At first glance, the Skywalker Specs look pretty mundane: a beige box with a bunch of wires coming out the back. Inside, they’re full of goodies. Officially known as the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS) and five years in the making, the main component is a 120-megapixel camera — your silly iPhone 5 only has eight megapixels — with a 120-degree field of view capable of seeing as far as six miles away. This hooks up to a laptop running cognitive visual processing algorithms that takes its input not only from the tripod mounted camera but also the EEG cap on the operator’s head. Like some device in a Philip K. Dick novel, this cap literally reads the soldier’s mind while he’s scanning the horizon for threats and flags any suspicious areas.
What’s really impressive about the CT2WS system is the fact that it specializes in interpreting unconscious thoughts. DARPA wrapped up the binoculars’ first field test on Monday and came back with pretty impressive results. Essentially, while the soldier is looking through the device, he’s “shown approximately ten images per second, on average” and the so-called cognitive visual processing algorithms can distinguish a normal reaction from a slightly suspicious one. “CT2WS built on the concept that humans are inherently adept at detecting the unusual,” DARPA explained in a statement. “Even though a person may not be consciously aware of movement or of unexpected appearance, the brain detects it and triggers the P-300 brainwave, a brain signal that is thought to be involved in stimulus evaluation or categorization.”
Again, the success rate is incredible. With ancient tools like non-brain wave-powered binoculars, soldiers have a miss rate of 47 percent or more. (We can understand why DARPA decided to build something better, when scouts were missing literally half of the threats on the battlefield.) Once put behind the CT2WS, though, the same soldiers would catch 91 percent of targets, and with the wider field of view, they could ostensibly do so more quickly. What’s even more impressive is that the CT2WS system is seldom wrong. Whereas soldiers produced 810 false alarms per hour in testing without the system, that figure dropped to only five false positives an hour with the CT2WS.
This is all very exciting for soldiers who are sick of terrorists sneaking up on them. It’s even more exciting for peeping toms with Pentagon connections and a weird fetish for brainwave data. Not that that’s a big group or anything.