Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
DARPA detection system uses soldiers’ brain waves to help protect forces
Researchers for the Defense Department are relying on the brainpower of soldiers in the field as a key ingredient for a new threat detection sensor system.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARP) is developing a Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS) that combines cameras, sensors and operators’ brain encephalograms that it says will be able to identify threats on the battlefield up to 100 percent of the time with very low false-alarm rates.
According to the agency, the lives of warfighters in the field count on the ability to detect threats from standoff distances. When advanced radar and drone coverage is not available, fighters typically rely on their own eyes to scan their surroundings, said the agency on Sept. 18, in a post on its Website. Wide area scanning, it noted, is challenging because of the sheer amount of territory that has to be covered, the limitations of the human eye and fatigue. Current technologies like binoculars, cameras and portable radars can help to improve visibility and increase the threat detection rate, it said, but current miss rates of 47 percent or greater using these technologies leave warfighters unprepared and vulnerable.
DARPA launched the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System program in 2008 with the goal of maximizing warfighters’ awareness of their surroundings by developing man-portable visual threat detection devices. The CT2WS program, it said, has succeeded in creating a technology kit that can not only identify up to 91 percent of targets during testing with extremely low false-alarm rates, but also widen a warfighter’s field of view to 120 degrees when all components of the kit are used in tandem. By incorporating a commercial radar (a Cerberus Scout surveillance system), target detection reached 100 percent, it said.
“DARPA set out to solve a common challenge for forward troops: how can you reliably detect potential threats and targets of interest without making it a resource drain?” said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager. “The prototype system has demonstrated an extremely low false alarm rate, a detection rate in the low nineties, all while reducing the load on the operator.”
According to DARPA, the CT2WS system includes three component technologies: a 120-megapixel, tripod-mounted, electro-optical video camera with a 120-degree field of view; cognitive visual processing algorithms that can be run on laptops or more powerful computers to identify potential targets and cue images for operator review. The system also features an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that is worn by the operator that monitors their brain signals and records when a threat is detected. The components can be configured as necessary to work with existing systems and meet specific mission requirements, said the agency.
CT2WS, it said, was built on the concept that humans are inherently adept at detecting the unusual. 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, it said. By improving the sensors that capture imagery and filtering results, a human user who is wearing an EEG cap can then rapidly view the filtered image set and let the brain’s natural threat-detection ability work, said the agency. The system, said DARPA, shows users approximately ten images per second, on average. Despite that quick sequence, brain signals indicate to the computer which images were significant.
The use of EEG-based human filtering significantly reduces the amount of false alarms, according to the agency, and cognitive algorithms can also highlight many events that might otherwise be considered irrelevant but are actually indications of threats or targets, such as a bird flying by or a branch’s swaying.
DARPA said in testing of the full CT2WS kit without radar, the sensor and cognitive algorithms returned 810 false alarms per hour. When a human wearing the EEG cap was introduced, it said the number of false alarms dropped to only five per hour, out of a total of 2,304 target events per hour, and a 91 percent successful target recognition rate.
The agency field-tested the CT2WS system in desert terrain at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, in tropical terrain in Hawaii, and in open terrain at California’s Camp Roberts. DARPA said it provided a final demonstration of the CT2WS system to Army officials at Fort Belvoir, VA.
The agency said the CT2WS technology is being transitioned to the Army’s Night Vision Lab.
The performers, it said, are HRL Laboratories (Malibu, CA); Advanced Brain Monitoring (Carlsbad, CA); Quantum Applied Science & Research, Inc. (San Diego, CA) and the University of California San Diego (San Diego CA).