The US Air Force has completed 5 studies to investigate if low level electrical stimulation can replace caffeine for fatigued troops who oversee the processing of digital information, including surveillance and drone footage.
The research grew out of a recognition that while computers have automated many military functions, humans are increasingly needed to monitor massive amounts of information to make battlefield decisions. It is led by R. Andy McKinley at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The process relies on controlled doses of electrical current, passed into certain regions of the brain to cause, in effect, a minor seizure, or more rapid nerve impulses. There have been side effects, including skin irritation from the electrodes and headaches.
“The hard part is to know what to turn on and what to turn off,” said Harvard professor William “Scott” Killgore, who is involved in a separate Pentagon study to help determine which parts of the brain are most effective to stimulate.
The two techniques being studied are transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation. It is described as one of the most in-depth studies of electric stimulation on healthy individuals.