In a new effort dubbed “Luke’s Binoculars” – after the high-tech binoculars Luke Skywalker uses in Star Wars – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is setting out to create its own version of this science-fiction hardware. And while the Pentagon’s R&D arm often focuses on technologies 20 years out, this new effort is dramatically different – DARPA says it expects to have prototypes in the hands of soldiers in three years.
The agency claims no scientific breakthrough is needed on the project – formally called the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System. Instead, DARPA hopes to integrate technologies that have been simmering in laboratories for years, ranging from flat-field, wide-angle optics, to the use of advanced electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to rapidly recognize brainwave signatures.
In March, DARPA held a meeting in Arlington, Virginia, for scientists and defense contractors who might participate in the project. According to the presentations from the meeting, the agency wants the binoculars to have a range of 1,000 to 10,000 meters, compared to the current generation, which can see out only 300 to 1,000 meters. DARPA also wants the binoculars to provide a 120-degree field of view and be able to spot moving vehicles as far as 10 kilometers away.
The most far-reaching component of the binocs has nothing to do with the optics: it’s Darpa’s aspirations to integrate EEG electrodes that monitor the wearer’s neural signals, cueing soldiers to recognize targets faster than the unaided brain could on its own. The idea is that EEG can spot “neural signatures” for target detection before the conscious mind becomes aware of a potential threat or target.