Communicating With Brain Signals

In the movie “Pacific Rim”, we see that two soldiers working together to control a giant robot called the Yeager. They do this by connecting their minds or brains. They use brain signals to communicate with each other and the robot so that it functions correctly.

But such technology can only be available in sci-fi movies like the one above. Bringing it into real-life is more like creating a real arc reactor, which isn’t possible. But that doesn’t necessarily have to mean that we should not try. 

And because of that curiosity, such technology might actually become real thanks to new research by the US Military. 

Decoding Brain Signals

Credit: US Army
Credit: US Army

Our brain functions with the help of millions and trillions of microchannels we call neurons. These neurons fire electric impulses to other neurons, causing a communication network inside our brain. This is how we basically do anything and everything.

These tiny electric pulses by the neurons inside distinct parts of our brain control our body to perform distinct tasks. These impulses are what neuroscientists call Brain Signals. 

Brain Signals are communication signals inside the brain. For example, a specific group of brain signals is telling my arms to type this story. Therefore, I can type this down. Another distinct group of neurons is helping you decipher what you are seeing. Similarly, all other functions communicate with the brain through brain signals. 

Scientists have researched decoding these signals for decades, and they still seem to have a long way to go. But a recent breakthrough in decoding them might be the first step towards a future where soldiers communicate through their minds. No, this is not telepathy, but it should be the closest we can get to telepathy. 

In recent research funded by the US Army Research Office, scientists were able to separate different kinds of brain signals. They were able to separate signals that control action and behaviour from signals that do not. Using high-tech equipment, AI algorithms, and mathematics, scientists were able to distinguish between different signals. They were then able to remove the action and behavioural signals from other behaviour irrelevant ones. 

The research was led by researchers at the University of Southern California along with several other universities, including UC Los Angeles and UC Berkeley. Duke University and New York University were also partners in the research. European Universities include Essex, Oxford, and Imperial College

Brain Signals communicate with machines 

brain signal
Credit: affen ajlfe/Flickr

“Here we’re not only measuring signals, but we’re interpreting them.”- Hamid Krim, Program Manager, Army Research Office.

What they are currently aiming for is a “brain-machine interpreting and feedback system”. When the brain is connected with the machine, the machine will detect brain signals and interpret them to provide accurate feedback. This will allow a soldier to take the right actions before any event takes place.

This will greatly reduce the risk of the soldier in combat situations. For example, the machine can interpret stress and fatigue signals even before the person realizes that he is tired or stressed out. This way he can conserve his energy by taking a break at exactly the right times. This is not the only application, as the only limit is imagination itself. 

Silent Communication

Another potential use of the technology is silent communication between soldiers. The researchers can develop the technology to allow the brain and computers to communicate so that soldiers can talk silently via the computer.

The idea is somewhat similar to a cellphone, except the soldiers won’t physically do the talking. A computer will catch the soldier’s brain signals and transmit the signals to his teammate’s computer. The teammate’s computer will then transmit it to its user. This is called a brain-machine interface. This way, soldiers will be talking to each other without uttering a single word. 

But that technology is still very far away. The current development can distinguish between behavioural and non-behavioural brain signals.

The next step would be to decode other signals. Then we will have to understand them. The next step would be to translate the signals into meaningful words. This step will be similar to learning the alphabet. 

The Army will be providing up to $6.25 million in funding over a period of five years. 

Read more on Could soldiers silently communicate using brain signals in the future?

Check out – Night Vision Goggles of the US Army.