Sep 13, 2018 I Brett Tingley

DARPA Achieves Telepathic Control of Drone Swarms

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

It won’t be too long before wars will be fought by robots. Robotic planes are already dropping bombs on innocent civilians in the name of the War on Terror®, but in just a few years we can expect to see some truly mind-bending battles between giant bipedal killing machines wielding lasers and railguns. Let’s just hope they’re broadcast on something other than Pay-Per-View.

While legions of fully autonomous bipedal terminators might not cover the face of the Earth anytime soon, the use of intelligent and semi-autonomous drones is already well in effect. Now, new research funded by DARPA (of course) suggests that soon, a lone techromancer might be able to turn the tide on the battlefield by controlling legions of drones using nothing but her mind. The question is: where do I sign up to become a DARPA techromancer?

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Oh, that's right. On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. ‘Tis a silly place.

The ‘magic’ behind this techromancy is just the latest in brain-to-computer interfacing, a booming area of research which seeks to find ways for us to control technology directly with our minds. DARPA’s new research uses a chip implanted in pilot’s brain to allow them to control multiple virtual aircraft using their minds alone, without those fingery middlemen we call hands getting in the way. At DARPA’s assuredly weird 60th-anniversary event in Maryland, the head of  DARPA’s biological technology office Justin Sanchez described the system and said the technology can even allow pilots to control different types of aircraft at the same time:

As of today, signals from the brain can be used to command and control not just one aircraft but three simultaneous types of aircraft. The signals from those aircraft can be delivered directly back to the brain so that the brain of that user [or pilot] can also perceive the environment. It’s taken a number of years to try and figure this out.

Pilots were able to both send and receive messages from the virtual aircraft. So far, the system has worked with up to three simultaneous aircraft and can send “full sensory signals” between pilots and aircraft.

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Sure beats World of Warcraft.

Does it even need to be said how full-on insane this technology sounds? One pilot controlling multiple drone aircraft with their minds: is anyone else as simultaneously terrified and fascinated as I am? One thing is for sure: if this much has already been made public, then some real spooky stuff is certainly going on in classified research circles. Could such technology already be in use? DARPA is remaining pretty tight-lipped about the project, saying the experiment happened “a handful of months ago.”

Think about how this technology would sound to military researchers in the 1940s: using crushed-up rocks implanted in the brain to control swarms of flying deathbots. The present all of a sudden started to feel a lot like the future.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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