DARPA wants to implant chips in soldiers' brains

DARPA has a plan to implant a device in soldiers’ brains to let them communicate with computers and digital sensors.


The brain-computer interface would allow soldier to communicate with sensors to more effectively track enemies or sense the surrounding terrain. Photo: US Army PEO

The program is called Neural Engineering System Design. The device would be about the size of two nickels stacked together. If successful, the small device would represent a huge breakthrough in neural communications.

“Today’s best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem,” said Phillip Alvelda, the NESD program manager. “Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics.”

NESD would gather signals from the brain at a much higher resolution than is currently possible. Right now, devices which read brain waves are aimed at areas of the brain. Each of 100 sensors picks up the activity of tens of thousands of neurons, giving a vague picture of what the brain is saying.

The chip and sensors from the NESD program would aim to communicate individually with millions of neurons. This would allow prosthetics wearers to give detailed commands to their prosthesis, soldiers to receive information from battlefield sensors instantly, and for researchers to map the human brain in exquisite detail.

While controlling mechanical arms and giving foot soldiers radar are sexy, it’s the research applications that DARPA is primarily targeting right now. NESD would support other DARPA initiatives that aim to map, protect, and communicate with the human brain.


One of the goals of DARPA’s brain initiatives is to help prosthetic wearers communicate with their devices. Photo: US Department of Veterans Affairs

The road forward for DARPA and its research partners is a hard one. According to a DARPA release, it will require “breakthroughs across numerous disciplines including neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics, medical device packaging and manufacturing, systems engineering, and clinical testing.”

DARPA is looking for business and research partners for the initiative. Interested parties can find information at their website.