Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Army Funding Research

According to the American Forces Press Service, the Army is funding research to explore the futuristic concept of using brain waves to communicate. Last month, the Army Research Office awarded a $4 million grant to provide the scientific foundation it hopes will someday enable soldiers in the field to communicate through a deliberate thought process. Messages will go directly from the soldier’s head into a computer programmed to decipher the soldier’s brain waves enabling communication to be accomplished in a silent and secure way.

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland are all working on the Army Research Office grant. According to Elmar Schmeisser, ARO Program Manager, it could take 15 to 20 years before the technology gets to the point to support the system since the mathematics behind this research is fierce, a huge amount of brain activity takes place at the same time, and no two people have the same EEG blueprint.

If the scientists are successful, the technology could provide a way for soldiers with brain injuries as well as civilians with neurological problems such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, to be able to communicate without speaking or writing.

Researchers will have test subjects put on special caps to record the EEG signals sent out by their brains. Then scientists will look at the brain information on a computer screen and try to figure out how to translate the information into messages that a computer can type out or speak. If the scientists are successful in decoding the information, then the thoughts will be transmitted via a computer where someone looking at the computer will be able to read the information.

The grant funding came from the Defense Department’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative Program to support research involving more than one science and engineering discipline. Schmisser said, “Few other organizations are able to invest in such high-risk ventures, despite the high payoff they could provide. The Army is interested in these breakthrough technologies even though they are high risk and may not pay off, but if and when they do, they pay off big.”

Another long term Army funded program still in its infancy, is exploring how to use genetically modified viruses to produce nanocircuitry. Angela Belcher, Chief Scientist behind this effort won the 2004 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award for her research.

This research will not only pave the way for low cost production of nanoscale integrated circuits and other electronic components, but this program could lead to a broad range of next generation applications. These applications could include medical implants and tissue growth, energy efficient batteries and lighting, faster and smaller computers, detectors for hazardous agents, and stronger armor for military craft.