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Neuroscience will unleash the pilot’s brain power in 3 years, the USAF promises

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It may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but a team from the United States Air Force (USAF) (AFRL) research lab is making sci-fi to help combatants unlock brain powers.

Image: AFRL

According to an AFLR article by our partner Aviacionline, the Individualized Neural Learning System (iNeuraLS) is a new advanced learning platform that enables fast learning by modulating cognitive states in a closed loop during the acquisition of skills.

Essentially, the AFRL team wants to develop a skill that will enable Air Force personnel to use neurotechnologies to quickly acquire knowledge and skills through direct brain interfaces.

This research effort was recently named as one of several projects to be funded under the Seeds for Disruptive Capabilities Program (SDCP).

SDCP brings together teams from all of AFRL’s technical bodies and its external partners to “seed” new ideas with potentially transformative capabilities in areas of particular interest to the Air Force, as outlined in the most recent Science and Technology Strategy 2030.

Although the concept may seem far-fetched at first glance, Gaurav Sharma, AFRL’s lead technical director for cognitive neuroscience, said it was actually more achievable than it looks. It might sound like science fiction, but it’s rooted in science.

“Over the past decade we have made tremendous advances in understanding how the brain functions in relation to pilot performance, and we have developed and tested a neuromodulation technology toolkit to get the brain into optimal performance. With iNeuraLS, we’re taking this to the next level and creating a comprehensive, closed-loop system that is optimized for each user’s learning potential, ”commented Sharma.

“We will have unprecedented access to the brain through a new brain-machine interface,” said Dr. Nathaniel Bridges, AFRL Biomedical Research Engineer and Head of the Neural Interface Team.

He added that these neural signals will be used to develop algorithms that researchers can use to determine the ideal brain state under which people can receive information.

From there, the team will determine the most effective ways to improve participants’ ability to receive and process information. This can range from non-invasive neuromodulation techniques – or brain stimulation – to using augmented reality to change perceived environmental conditions.

Bridges reiterated that this process is not as supernatural as it may seem. To collect data on brain activity, the team will develop a hybrid brain-machine interface that uses a combination of two well-established non-invasive technologies: electroencephalography, commonly known as EEG, and magnetencephalography, or MEG.

He explains that each technology has its own advantages. Part of the information generated by neural currents in the brain is presented as electric fields that are captured by the EEG, while the other part is presented as magnetic fields that are captured by the MEG. In addition, MEG enables a higher spatial resolution compared to the EEG.

A hybrid of the two technologies would therefore allow researchers to quickly gather information about brain activity and pinpoint exactly where the activity is taking place in the brain.

At the end of the three year effort, the team will demonstrate the technology through a hands-on application scenario, which may look like a flight simulator task, to demonstrate the system’s ability to accelerate a user’s ability to acquire skills to accomplish the task.

Image: US Air Force / Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bridges said this research could help expedite the training of Air Force pilots. Although the applications for this research are specifically geared towards the Air Force’s mission, he said the project will add to a body of knowledge that can indirectly benefit the entire neuroscientific community.

He also hopes that other military organizations like the Space Force and the maintenance and aviation communities can benefit from and rely on technology.

Industry partners include Microsoft, which manages content delivery and provides guidance on changes to platforms and hardware for virtual and augmented reality. the Sonera Magnetics project, which is working on part of the EEG / MEG interface; the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, which develops machine learning algorithms; and Teledyne Technologies, which integrates the parts to create a cohesive and optimized product.

Interacting with these partners is one of the main strengths of the project, according to Sharma. “We are working more closely than ever with industry leaders to develop innovative technologies with transformative potential for the Air Force,” he said. “AFRL is committed to developing neurotechnology-based solutions to improve fighter performance, and this partnership is just the beginning.”

Bridges said that following the announcement of the three-year SDCP award, the team is working hard to initiate the research effort that forms the basis of iNeuraLS. He wants to expand the team by recruiting new neuroscientists, engineers, computer scientists and other energetic and forward-thinking professionals to drive the effort forward.

“We are very excited to begin this research and see where we can take it,” said Bridges. “This is a project with enormous potential for the military and neuroscientific community. It’s a science that really inspires art. “

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