Intelligent Machines

Sentry System Combines a Human Brain with Computer Vision

A DARPA project suggests a mix of man and machine may be the most efficient way to spot danger.

Combining human abilities with those of machines could be useful in many different settings.

Sentry duty is a tough assignment. Most of the time there’s nothing to see, and when a threat does pop up, it can be hard to spot. In some military studies, humans are shown to detect only 47 percent of visible dangers.

Mind meld: DARPA tested its human-in-the-loop sentry system in a simulated setting.

A project run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) suggests that combining the abilities of human sentries with those of machine-vision systems could be a better way to identify danger. It also uses electroencephalography to identify spikes in brain activity that can correspond to subconscious recognition of an object.

An experimental system developed by DARPA sandwiches a human observer between layers of computer vision and has been shown to outperform either machines or humans used in isolation.

The so-called Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System consists of a wide-angle camera and radar, which collects imagery for humans to review on a screen, and a wearable electroencephalogram device that measures the reviewer’s brain activity. This allows the system to detect unconscious recognition of changes in a scene—called a P300 event.

In experiments, a participant was asked to review test footage shot at military test sites in the desert and rain forest. The system caught 91 percent of incidents (such as humans on foot or approaching vehicles) in the simulation. It also widened the field of view that could effectively be monitored. False alarms were raised only 0.2 percent of the time, down from 35 percent when a computer vision system was used on its own. When combined with radar, which detects things invisible to the naked eye, the accuracy of the system was close to 100 percent, DARPA says.

“The DARPA project is different from other ‘human-in-the-loop’ projects because it takes advantage of the human visual system without having the humans do any ‘work,’ ” says computer scientist Devi Parikh of the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago. Parikh researches vision systems that combine human and machine expertise.

While electroencephalogram-measuring caps are commercially available for a few hundred dollars, Parikh warns that the technology is still in its infancy. Furthermore, she notes, the P300 signals may vary enough to require training or personalized processing, which could make it harder to scale up such a system for widespread use.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.