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Northrop Grumman to Develop Brain-Wave Binoculars

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman won a $6.7 million contract to develop brain-wave binoculars.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, awarded the contract to develop intelligent binoculars that would help soldiers detect threats from miles away.

The defense contractor says electrodes placed on the scalp will record the user's electrical brain activity. Responses will train the system over time to recognize actual threats at greater distances than conventional binoculars.

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The system would use a custom helmet equipped with wide-angle binoculars capable of producing high-resolution images and electroencephalogram, or EEG, electrodes. Researchers hope to tap into the brain's ability to spot patterns and movement.

In addition to the defense contractor's Linthicum-based Electronic Systems division, members of the team developing the technology are Baltimore-based Sensics, Inc.; SAIC, San Diego, Calif.; Theia Technologies LLC, Wilsonville, Ore.; L-3 Communications Infrared Products, Dallas, Texas; and researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; Georgetown University; Portland State University; and the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo.

Team member Paul Hasler, an associate professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, described the technology as an example of "neuromorphic" engineering that uses hardware and software to emulate human intelligence.

"The idea of this project is to build a visual device that is attentive, that can do the kind of low-level visual processing that your eyes do naturally," Hasler said in an e-mail to The Baltimore Daily Record. "You would see a certain picture in your field of view, but the device would actually be looking over a much wider space — and if it found something interesting it would present you with that picture as well."

"You need to present the soldier with many images and then use the person's brain to figure out what is of interest," said Sensics CEO Yuval Boger.

Dr. Robert Shin, assistant professor of neurology and ophthalmology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the brain is constantly processing images but most get filtered out.

"There is a level where the brain can identify things before it ever makes it to the conscious level," Shin said. "Your brain says, 'It may be something,' but it might not realize that it is something that should rise to the conscious level."