Quick Study


Quick Study

By Brian Robinson

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DARPA aims for fiber-optic link between warfighters' minds, bodies

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is famed for its prowess at delivering increasingly effective ways for warfighters to deliver mayhem to their enemies, and it seems that DARPA also is as determined to look after their minds and bodies.

The latest effort is a $5.6 million award to Southern Methodist University to fund its Neurophotonics Research Center’s development of two-way fiber optic communication between prosthetic limbs and the wearer’s peripheral nerves.

All allusions to cyborgs aside (and there’s been plenty of those), the research has the deadly serious aim of helping amputees get back as much function as possible to help them in their post-warfighter lives. The research at SMU has the real chance of giving amputees an effective way of “feeling” their artificial limbs, which could revolutionize their freedom of movement and agility.

Unlike most DOD-funded work, this research also has a very clear implication in the civilian world. As well as lost limbs, there also are tens of thousands of spinal cord injuries in the United States each year, with the consequent hit to individuals’ lives and to the well-being of their families, not to mention the economy overall.

DARPA is also funding research into direct stimulus of brain functions that could help soldiers deal better with battlefield stress and even reduce the effects of traumatic brain injuries. Technology that could do this could be built directly into soldiers’ helmets.

With multiple recent announcements of technology-enabled brain-body links, such as a chip that can be implanted in the brain to help with controlling prosthetics, it’s no longer science fiction to believe that people with shattered limbs and minds --- helped by U.S. military research -- can be made almost whole again.

 

Posted on Sep 22, 2010 at 7:27 PM2 comments


Power IT Down Day: A major success, but could be bigger

The organizers of Power IT Down Day, a yearly event that tries to convince government workers and agencies to do more to save energy, obviously need to get more ambitious.

They set a fairly conservative goal of 6,100 participants -- a 10 percent over 2009 -- but instead ended up with 17,639. The Wounded Warrior Project, which gets a contribution proportional to the size of the participation, will be banking a $60,000 check.

That’s about as successful as it gets for this kind of project, whose aim is to educate government about the money that can be saved just by turning off PCs and other computing devices when they are not being used. It seems that, despite the various mandates for agencies to reduce their energy use, substantial prodding is needed.

Tom Simmons, area vice president for the US public sector at Citrix Systems, one of the event’s sponsors, said that compared to three years ago when the event started, government overall is now much more aware of how much money it spends on powering electronic devices. Coming budget cuts will no doubt help focus minds even more.

However, as he also pointed out, policies in many government organizations weigh against savings. Managers tell their people to keep PCs and other devices turned on at night to facilitate security and other updates. Comments to the original Quick Study post made the same point. So there’s still a lot of convincing that needs to happen.

Citrix and the other event sponsors -- Intel, Hewlett Packard and GTSI -- obviously did a great job in getting the word out this year. A good number of press outlets carried something about it, and inside government such agencies as the General Services Administration and the Health and Human Services Department stepped up to publicize the effort to their employees and others.

Given the response, momentum is obviously building. When pressed, Simmons said a participation of 25,000 or more would be reasonable. Feels a little wussy to me. As he said, this year’s total still came to less than 0.5 percent of the government PC user population. I would think at least 50,000 is a better target for 2011, wouldn’t you?

Posted on Sep 01, 2010 at 7:27 PM3 comments


Military simulation training may lead recruits to view war as a game

It’s a fact that video games have become an important part of the military training regimen. It’s not that they are a new technology, but video games are an interesting addition to traditional approaches and, so the theory goes, are a necessity for current “digital-native” generations of recruits.

However, according to a LiveScience story, although video games are being used to train recruits for war, they could also be masking the reality of the battlefield and creating a kind of detachment for those who become involved in the real thing.

The story quotes Brooking Institution senior fellow Peter Singer, who opined on this in a recent edition of Foreign Policy. As Singer points out, the Pentagon’s goal with all of this is to create a simulation and quick training scenario for just about any military skill set, which is why it spends some $6 billion a year on the virtual universe.

If you want to see just how serious the military is about this, check out the presentations made at GameTech 2011, the latest in an annual series of conferences the Defense Department uses to promote the use of gaming technology in the military. It’s as detailed and academic as any serious tech gathering.

There’s good and bad in all of this, of course. Video games are also being used to (somewhat) successfully treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the much less capable gaming technology of the 1990s was tried out on Vietnam vets.

However, with all of this techno wizardry, there’s a question of whether it’s blurring the border between gaming and reality for warfighters. Virtual training, for example, is at the heart of the Air Force’s vision for the future, and flying by joystick and screen is already a career path for pilots.

But Singer points to a conversation he had with a former F-15 pilot who, while standing in awe of the capabilities of U.S.-based pilots of unmanned drones, said the virtual nature of their training and video-based flying gives them no sense of what’s really going on. That pilot refuses to let his own kids play war-based games, preferring ones involving cars.

Posted on Aug 20, 2010 at 7:27 PM1 comments


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