Saturday, December 5, 2015

Neuroscience in Crosshair of Weapons Training

Trainees using one of the leading brands of engagement skills trainers (EST) could soon add headbands to the equipment they use to learn personal weapon skills: headbands that read brainwaves.
A marksman trains with the Neuro-EST (engagement skills trainer).
Intific Inc., which is located in Austin, Texas, is a subsidiary of Cubic Global Defense, which is located in San Diego. Intific specializes in the application of neuroscience technology for a wide variety of applications, including training. Amy Kruse, the company’s vice president of innovation, explains that the real challenge in the military training application is to ensure relevance and currency while focusing on the human being.

“The question is — or should be — how do we engage the human?” she asked.

The concept is both simple and complex: simple in that it is a technological extension of the simplest of training paradigms — the transfer of knowledge from expert to neophyte; complex in that the technology involved is new and coupled with advances from the fields of biology and psychology.

The premise revolves around the working of the human brain and the manner in which individuals learn patterns and modes of behavior.

“If we can analyze what makes a marksman a marksman and replicate the environment in which his or her unique expertise develops and operates, the chances are good that an individual can learn more effectively and in a more structured manner, leading to significant improvements in training efficiency,” Kruse said.

One of the issues that military trainers have been struggling with in the last two decades has been the recognition of, and the necessity to make provision for, human evolution. If that sounds fanciful, it isn’t. One senior officer responsible for training coordination at the national level of his armed forces explained why.

“This generation of recruits acts differently and reacts differently from my generation and my father’s generation. It’s not just a cultural issue or a discipline issue — it’s rather more fundamental. We have to accept that with the background of computers and communications technology, what the average 18 year old today has grown up with makes him or her think differently. And if they think differently and we can identify how and leverage that difference through technology, well I pretty much don’t care what it’s called, but I want it. And I want it now,” he said.

That’s what Intific and Cubic are seeking to deliver. Kruse’s previous experience as program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Accelerated Learning Program obviously provided a springboard, but the Intific developers have taken a seemingly off-the-wall idea and accelerated it to well beyond proof of concept.

Using electro-encephalographic (EEG) techniques drawn from the medical diagnosis community, the Intific Neuro-EST solution identifies the patterns of brainwaves of expert marksmen as they shoot.

Analysis provides a brainwave model that can then be transferred to an individual at a lower level of expertise using auditory and haptic techniques that effectively teach that individual to think differently — just about weapons training, of course: There is as good a prospect of changing the entire thought process of an individual as there was of any medieval alchemist actually finding the Philosopher’s Stone.

The brain process is something becoming better understood and this type of exploitation could become the bellwether of future advances. One thing is certain: The process is one of the fundamental components that researchers have identified as the most important in changing learning behavior.

Kruse accepts that the physical components of learning weapons skills can be taught almost by rote. Breathing control, trigger pressure, sight picture; all these are tangible and controllable skills that can be taught.

“But this technology allows the trainee to reach back into their core mental processes and find capability, once they have understood the need to do so,” she said.

The Intific Neuro-EST combines neuroscience with Cubic’s proven technologies in engagement skills trainers.

“Correlating behavior and thinking patterns to the success of expert marksmen has resulted in proven performance improvement of over 100 percent in trials in some cases,” Kruse said.

Other companies prominent in the military training world also are working on the issues of cognitive behavior and neural feedback loops. And companies that are traditionally more at the hardware end of the market than the software or middleware segments, like Saab, recognize the benefits of leveraging advances in neuroscience to enhance current solutions.

Claes-Peter Cederlof, head of Saab’s UK market unit, recently observed that the company’s extensive research and development program includes consideration as to how deeper analysis of generic and individual thinking patterns can benefit Saab’s traditional force-on-force training solutions.

“We can never stand still, since circumstances continually force us to provide better, more effective solutions to our customers. And exploiting this sort of technology — leveraging the human dimension — is one of the keys for future success,” he said.

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