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HomeDEFENCEMilitary applications of Brain Machine Interface (BMI) Technology

Military applications of Brain Machine Interface (BMI) Technology

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The advent of brain machine interface (BMI) technology has led to a new paradigm in various fields, notably in military technology. BMIs, also known as brain–computer interfaces (BCIs), involve direct communication between the brain and an external device. They interpret brain signals as executable commands, enabling the control of devices through thought. In this article both the terms BMI and BCI have been used interchangeably.

In the military sector, this groundbreaking technology is not just a theoretical concept; it is becoming an integral part of strategic planning and operation. Brain–computer Interfaces (BCIs) have come a long way in their development for military applications. These tools decode brain signals and translate them into the desired actions or commands. This technology has opened various possibilities in the military sector, from controlling drones to enhancing the soldier performance. BMIs promise to redefine warfare.

A key figure in the evolution of BCIs, Jacques J. Vidal, coined the term ‘brain-computer interface” in the 1970s. His pioneering work laid the groundwork for subsequent advancements in this field.

Brain Machine Interface Technology involves invasive procedures that often require implants or other devices placed directly into the brain. Over time, researchers have made significant strides in transitioning from invasive to non-invasive methods. Non-invasive techniques, such as skull surface electrodes and magnetic fields that stimulate the target brain regions, are now more commonly used.

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In the initial stages of Brain Machine Interface Technology, electroencephalography (EEG) played a critical role as an initial form of the interface. Electroencephalogram (EEG) is a method of recording electrical activity in the brain using electrodes placed on the scalp. Case Western Reserve University researchers used EEG to interpret quadriplegic brain waves and moved a computer cursor via scalp electrodes in the late 1990s.

Military Applications

The evolution of BMI technology has seen not only advancements in how brain signals are collected and interpreted, but also shifts towards safer and more practical techniques for military use. Some of the specific research projects and their Military Applications are:

Neural Control of Unmanned Systems

DARPA’s Neural-Drive program: Aims to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) that allows soldiers to control drones and other unmanned systems directly with their thoughts, offering unparalleled speed and dexterity.

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BRAIN Initiative’s NeuroLink project: Focuses on building a high-bandwidth BCI capable of interfacing with millions of neurons, potentially enabling intuitive control of complex robotic systems.

Augmented Soldier Performance

tDCS project: Investigates the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to enhance cognitive functions like memory, attention, and decision-making in soldiers under pressure.

IWEAR project: Is Developing a wearable BCI system that can integrate with existing soldier equipment, providing real-time battlefield information and augmented reality overlays directly in their vision.

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Advanced Prosthetics and Rehabilitation

DARPA’s Revolutionising Prosthetics (RP) program- Seeks to create fully integrated prosthetic limbs that seamlessly connect with the user’s nervous system, restoring natural movement and sensation.

BrainGate neural interface- Allows amputees to control robotic limbs with their thoughts, offering remarkable dexterity and potential for restoring lost functionality.

Neural Bypass Research- The collaboration between Battelle and Burkhart is an example of the progress made in neural bypass technology. Burkhart, who experienced a spinal cord injury, regained control over his muscles through a neural bypass that interpreted signals from a chip implanted in his brain. This case study shows the potential of injured service members to recover motor function more quickly and effectively in the future.

Enhanced Situational Awareness

Neuro-Enhancement for Battlefield Information Access (NEBIA) project– Explores using BCIs to directly feed crucial battlefield data into soldiers’ brains, improving their situational awareness and decision-making speed.

Biomimetic and Bioinspired Information Systems (BBIS) – Investigates developing neural interfaces that mimic natural sensory systems, potentially giving soldiers enhanced perception and threat detection capabilities.

DARPA’s Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology Program (N³)– Aims to create high-performance, bi-directional brain machine interfaces for able-bodied service members. These interfaces would be crucial for various national security applications, including controlling unmanned aerial vehicles and active cyber defence systems, or enhancing multitasking during complex military missions. Unlike existing neural interfaces that require surgical implantation of electrodes into the brain, the envisioned N3 technology does not require surgery and is portable, making it accessible to a broader population of potential users.

Key features of the N3 program are:

1. Non-Invasive Precision:

The N3 technology aims to read from and write to 16 independent channels within a 16mm³ volume of neural tissue with a 50ms round-trip time. Each channel can specifically interact with sub-millimetre regions of the brain.

2. Development Phases:

Phase 1: Teams have one year to demonstrate the ability to read (record) and write to (stimulate) brain tissue through the skull.

– Phase 2: Successful teams move on to develop working devices and evaluate them on living animals over the next 18 months.

– Phase 3: The final phase involves testing the developed devices on humans.

3. Non-Invasive and Minutely Invasive Approaches:

– Non-Invasive Technologies:

– Ultrasound-Guided Light Detection: A team from Carnegie Mellon University plans to use ultrasound waves to guide light into and out of the brain for detecting neural activity. They also intend to use interfering electrical fields to write to specific neurons.

– Other non-invasive techniques are being explored by teams from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, PARC, and Teledyne Technologies.

– Minutely Invasive Technologies:

– Rice University is developing a system that exposes neurons to a viral vector, delivering instructions for synthetic proteins that indicate neuron activity.

– Battelle, an Ohio-based technology company, is working on a brain machine interface that relies on magnetoelectric nanoparticles injected into the brain.

Also Read: Countering Drones in Urban Environments

AI/ML Integration in Military Brain Machine Interfaces

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are rapidly becoming essential for the development of Brain Machine Interfaces (BMI), especially in military applications. These advanced technologies play a significant role in improving BMIs, allowing for better interpretation of complex neural data and more precise control over connected devices.

The following are some specific ways in which AI and ML are integrated into military BMIs:

Deep learning algorithms, a subset of machine learning, are particularly valuable for decoding vast amounts of data generated by BMIs. When soldiers interact with brain-controlled devices, these algorithms can quickly identify patterns in neural signals, making real-time decision making more efficient.

Innovative projects, such as AlphaFold, have demonstrated the power of AI in solving complex problems by predicting protein folding structures with unprecedented accuracy. Similar AI approaches are now being applied to BMI development, in which understanding intricate biological processes is crucial for creating more responsive interfaces.

Researchers are now exploring the integration of BMIs with virtual and augmented reality (AR) systems. This would be a significant step forward in developing interfaces that can seamlessly merge human cognitive functions with digital platforms.

Neuralink, led by Elon Musk, is known for its ambitious efforts to develop high-bandwidth BMIs capable of connecting the human brain to computers. While primarily focusing on medical applications, such as treating brain diseases, Neuralink’ s technology also holds potential for military use, possibly leading to advancements in communication and control systems for defence purposes.

The above advancements highlight the close relationship between AI/ML and BMI technologies, indicating a future in which military operations may heavily depend on the integration of human cognition and machine intelligence. With each innovation, military capabilities will not only improve, but also redefine, opening new possibilities for soldier support and strategic advantage.

Future Challenges and Potential of Military BMIs

Signal Decoding Interpreting precise brain signals remains a significant hurdle. For military applications, the stakes are high because errors can lead to unintended actions. The complexity of the brain’s neural language necessitates sophisticated algorithms capable of deciphering subtle nuances in brain activity.

Safety/Ethical Concerns On the battlefield, BCIs have introduced new dimensions to war fighter safety and ethical conduct. The risks range from neurological harm due to the long-term use of potential weaponization of mind control. Protocols must be established to protect not only the physical well-being of users, but also their autonomy and mental integrity.

Healthcare Revolutionization Insights gained from military BCI research hold promise for transforming health care. Techniques perfected for enhancing soldier cognition or controlling drones could migrate into civilian medical practice, offering breakthroughs in treating neurological disorders or aiding rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries.

Ethical Considerations and Neuro-rights in Military BMI Use

Pic: U.S. Naval Institute

The rapid development of brain–machine interfaces (BMIs) has opened Pandora’s box of ethical considerations. Amid these promising benefits, there is an array of ethical dilemmas that are yet to be comprehensively addressed.

The Risk of Unauthorized Access One of the most pressing issues is hacking the brain. As computer systems can be compromised, advanced BMIs can potentially allow unauthorised access to a person’s cognitive processes. This risk is particularly significant in military applications, where critical information can be at stake. Therefore, there is an urgent need for robust neuro-privacy safeguards to protect against such violations.

Manipulating Emotions Another concern centres on emotional manipulation. BMIs can decode and potentially alter emotional states, raising questions about their misuse in controlling emotions in a military context. This capability could lead to coercive scenarios infringing on soldiers’ mental integrity and personal autonomy.

Upholding Cognitive Liberty The concept of cognitive liberty is of paramount importance. It encompasses the right to mental self-determination, ensuring that individuals have control over their own mental processes and the alterations made to them through technologies such as BMIs. The implications of cognitive liberty are profound in the deployment of BCIs in the military. While BCIs can provide tactical advantages in the battlefield, their use must not infringe upon soldiers’ neuro-rights. These rights uphold an individual’s mental privacy, integrity, and psychological continuity, all of which are potentially at risk with BCI use.

Thus, while BMIs may revolutionise military technology, they also necessitate rigorous evaluation of ethical parameters and neuroprotective effects to prevent potential misuse.


Brain machine interface (BMI) technology is undeniably etching a significant mark in the realm of military applications. Its profound impact is revolutionising warfare and soldier enhancement, paving the way for thought-controlled weapons, enhanced cognitive abilities, and potential rehabilitation solutions for wounded soldiers.

Despite these groundbreaking advancements, it is paramount to recognise the risks associated with this technology. The threats of brain hacking, emotional manipulation, and violation of neuro-rights pose serious ethical dilemmas.

Innovation in BMI technology should not be about technological advancements but also about ethical considerations. The pursuit of progress should never compromise human dignity or infringe upon fundamental human rights. Hence, it is critical to establish robust safeguards to ensure neuro-privacy and uphold cognitive liberty.

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Rear Admiral Dr. S Kulshrestha (Retd)
Rear Admiral Dr. S Kulshrestha (Retd)
Former Director General of Naval Armament Inspection (DGNAI) at the Integrated Headquarters of Ministry of Defense (Navy) Rear Admiral Dr. S Kulshrestha was advisor to the Chief of the Naval Staff prior to his superannuation in 2011. An alumnus of the Defence Services Staff College Wellington, College of Naval Warfare, Mumbai, and the National Defence College (NDC), Delhi — Rear Admiral Kulshrestha holds two MPhil degrees in nanotechnology from Mumbai and Chennai Universities and Doctorate from ‘School of International Studies,’ JNU. He has authored a book “Negotiating Acquisition of Nanotechnology: The Indian Experience”.


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