Today the US Department of Defense announced that they would be collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University to develop an autonomous copilot for DARPA’s upcoming “helicopter jeep” project. Yes, the military is developing a helicopter jeep.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a 17-month, $988,000 contract to Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute to develop an autonomous flight system for the Transformer (TX) Program, which is exploring the feasibility of a military ground vehicle that could transform into a vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) air vehicle.
In Spider-Man 2—which I know isn’t canon, but work with me here—Dr. Octopus can only do his research thanks to some spectacular artificial arms: Each of his four bonus arms is heat resistant, incredibly precise, and has a brain of its own, so they can work independently. The arms join in a knapsack-sized device that connects directly to his spinal cord, so Dr. Octopus can send signals to the arms with his thoughts. He can think sends orders to the arms through a direct link into his spine. Now here in the real world, we have trouble linking robotic limbs directly to nerves because our bodies reject metal attachments to our nerves. So Doc Ock really achieved something there, setting aside the later problems with the arms’ AI (surely an easily fixed bug).
Now a crew of scientists at Southern Methodist University is working on their own technique for creating two-way communications between an artificial limb and a user’s brain. It uses non-metallic polymers, and at its core, it uses the same principal as whispering galleries of the sort that can be found in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, or at certain parts of Grand Central Station in New York. Indeed, they call it a “whispering gallery mode.”
The military’s most farseeing agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, required the services of Eleventh Hour‘s Jacob Hood in last night’s episode to figure who violently killed some test-chimps and a veterinarian in the agency’s super soldier program. It seems a mad scientist had found some way to increase the size of a human amygdala, which led the soldier to have extreme, and unthinking, fight-or-flight reactions. Whenever someone approached this super soldier in a threatening way, he reacted with extreme prejudice. Naturally, the mad scientist wasn’t supposed to be testing on people, which is why by the end of the show he was off to prison.
But DARPA is pretty serious about improving the, ahem, human component of soldiering. After decades of focusing on machines (like unmanned flying drones, GPS, and Internet), DARPA decided toward the end of the 1990s to focus on improving the actual biology of the soldiers. Contrary to the show, the goal is not extremely obedient killers. The modern military is focused on small teams functioning independently, far from base and reinforcements of any kind. To succeed in this kind of environment, they want to actually increase the ability of soldiers to think creatively, to stay awake longer, and to be physically active longer without becoming tired.