The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has announced its latest technological advance, a combination of "mind and machine" to help soldiers on the battlefield respond more quickly to deadly threats. It's the latest in a series of technical breakthroughs from the Penatgon's research arm, some of which can be applied in areas other than national defense.
A few months ago, DARPA revealed it had successfully tested a camera (pictured above) with 1.4 gigapixel resolution. To achieve that resolution--the equivalent of 1,400 megapixels--the camera builds a panoramic image from more than 100 micro cameras.
DARPA's newest development, called the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS), includes a 120-megapixel camera, radar, computers with cognitive visual-processing algorithms, and brainwave scanners worn by soldiers. It aims to help scouts assess battlefield input using a portable visual threat-detection device.
DARPA is trying to solve a common problem with CT2WS, said program manager Gill Pratt, in a statement on the initiative's progress: "How can you reliably detect potential threats and targets of interest without making it a resource drain?"
CT2WS is based on the concept that humans have a natural ability to "detect the unusual," according to DARPA. The soldier wears an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that monitors brain signals and records when a threat is detected. Users are shown images, about 10 per second, and their brain signals indicate which images are significant.
Launched in 2008, the program is being transitioned to the Army's Night Vision Lab. Field tests and demonstrations resulted in a low rate of false alarms--five out of 2,304 "target events" per hour--and the technology identified 91% of threats. Common alternatives such as binoculars and cameras have a much higher error rate.
DARPA draws a lot of attention for far-out research projects like the world's fastest robot and a plan to capture and recycle space junk, but electronics, communications, and IT are core to its mission. That's been true since the agency created ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet, in 1969.
The research agency has dozens of projects underway in various research offices. Its Information Innovation Office focuses on IT research and development, its Microsystems Technology Office on electronics and photonics, and its Strategic Technology Office on communications, networks, and electronic warfare.
Dig into our InformationWeek Government visual guide to 14 of DARPA's most innovative technology projects. Image credit: DARPA