Imagine a Time ...

When Soldiers Use Mind Waves to Communicate With Man and Machine


U.S. Army research on wearable technologies could lead to a future in which soldiers wear helmets with embedded thought sensors to communicate with one another and autonomous systems.

For now, scientists have developed a prototype architecture that will allow soldiers equipped with wearable technologies to communicate with each other and with robotic systems using hand gestures—even if team members are not within sight. The technologies will increase situational awareness, which ultimately improves mission effectiveness.

The scientists cite a hypothetical situation in which a dismounted squad moves through an area, perhaps through woods. The soldiers must be quiet because enemy forces may be in the vicinity, so they communicate with discreet hand gestures commonly used by NATO forces. Those gestures include a raised fist to indicate the team should halt and a finger pointed upward with a circular hand motion to tell others to “Rally about me” or “Come to my location.”

“Imagine a soldier is moving about a battlespace with a squad. Now, imagine that squad of soldiers. Some can see each other and some can’t. A soldier on point gives the ‘Rally about me’ gesture. Some soldiers may not be able to see that,” suggests Stephen Russell, chief, Battlefield Information Processing Branch, U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL). “In our work, we would properly recognize that signal, translate that signal into a classified gesture and send that classified signal to other soldiers or maybe even to automation, to smart systems or small pack bots or robots that might in the future be deployed with that soldier. The reality is my squad members will be a mix of humans and robots or autonomous systems.”


The ARL’s Battlefield Information Processing Branch focuses on the interaction between humans and information. “Human-information interaction is that sweet spot between people and the information they use. The emphasis and focus is not so much on the device or the means to access the information but the information itself,” Russell says.