Daily Archives: October 5, 2010

Army embeds active-duty PSYOPS soldiers at local TV stations

yahoo | Oct 1, 2010

By John Cook

The U.S. Army has used local television stations in the U.S. as training posts for some of its psychological-operations personnel, The Upshot has learned. Since at least 2001, both WRAL, a CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C., and WTOC, a CBS affiliate in Savannah, Ga., have regularly hosted active-duty soldiers from the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations group as part of the Army’s Training With Industry program. Training With Industry is designed to offer career soldiers a chance to pick up skills through internships and fellowships with private businesses. The PSYOPS soldiers used WRAL and WTOC to learn broadcasting and communications expertise that they could apply in their mission, as the Army describes it, of “influenc[ing] the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign audiences.”

WRAL and WTOC were on a list of participants in the Army’s Training With Industry program provided to The Upshot in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, and a spokeswoman with the Army’s Human Resources Command confirmed that PSYOPS soldiers worked at the stations.

“Both of those stations are very supportive of the military, and think very highly of the program,” said Lt. Col. Stacy Bathrick. “Our officers are there to learn best practices in terms of programming and production side that they can use when they deploy. To be able to get hands-on interaction with a news station — there’s nothing like that.” Bathrick said the soldiers were never involved in newsgathering.

The relationship between PSYOPS, Training With Industry, and television news operations has stirred controversy in the past. In 2000, after a Dutch newspaper reported that PSYOPS troops had been placed in CNN’s newsroom under the program, CNN discontinued the internships and admitted that they had been a mistake. “It was inappropriate for PSYOPS personnel to be at CNN, they are not here now, and they never again will be at CNN,” a spokesperson said at the time.

WRAL’s news director, Rick Gall, feels differently. “My sense was, this was an educational opportunity to see how the broadcasting industry operates,” said Gall. “They’d spend time in the various departments of the station, including the newsroom. I wasn’t concerned about having someone learn what we do, and there was no influence on newsgathering. It was like shadowing.” WRAL is owned by Capitol Broadcasting Company, which owns a variety of media outlets in North Carolina. Gall said WRAL hasn’t hosted a soldier — which he described as an “embed” — since 2007. According to Bathrick, the Army’s relationship with WTOC in Savannah is ongoing — a PSYOPS officer is currently embedded there. Bill Cathcart, WTOC’s vice president and general manager, did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment. WTOC is owned by Raycom Media, a television chain based in Alabama.

WRAL and WTOC are not alone among media outlets that the U.S. military has sought to learn from through Training With Industry. The Upshot has previously reported that the Marine Corps placed public affairs officers with the Chicago Tribune for several years in order to better understand how to influence and work with the news media, and CNNMoney.com hosted an officer in 2007 and 2008, despite the network’s embarrassment over the program  in 2000.

Meet RatCar, A Japanese Robot Car Controlled By A Rat’s Brain

RatCar RatCar involves implanted neural electrodes that allow a rat’s brain signals to control a motorized robot.  IEEE Spectrum

PopSci | Oct 4, 2010

By Rebecca Boyle

Robots are a major part of the cultural fabric of Japan; they’re performing weddings, buying groceries and keeping people company. A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo is taking this robotic cultural immersion a step further — they’re making animal-robot hybrids. Sort of.

RatCar is a brain-machine interface that uses a rat’s brain signals to control a motorized robot. The rat hangs in the air, and the robot does what the rat’s limbs would do. It’s far from the only brain-robot locomotion contraption, but it’s arguably one of the strangest.


‘Frankenrobot’ controlled by rat brain

Osamu Fukayama and colleagues developed RatCar to study whether a small vehicle could be controlled by the brain signals that move rats’ limbs. Unlike less-invasive, EEG-based brain-machine interfaces, the system involves implanting tiny neural electrodes in a rat’s brain.

The rat is suspended from a small lightweight “neuro-robotic platform,” as IEEE Spectrum reports. The goal is to make the vehicle and the rat work together to move forward. Brain-control interfaces like this could be a boon for people with locked-in syndrome or various other disabilities.

The system also includes several models and algorithms that explain the correlation between recorded neural signals and the rat’s movement, as Fukayama explains.

Researchers trained the rats by making them tow the car, motors turned off, around an enclosed area. A camera tracked the rats’ movement and fed data into a modeling program, which pieced together signals from the motor cortex. Then, the rats were hung from the car so their limbs barely touched the floor. The researchers switched the motors on, and as they tried to move, their neural signals were used to drive the car. Six out of eight rats adapted well and were able to get around with the car, according to IEEE Spectrum.

It’s not clear how much the rats’ wriggling might have affected the car’s movement, however. Fukayama and colleagues Takafumi Suzuki and Kunihiko Mabuchi want to perform more experiments to address that question.

They have been working on RatCar for several years and presented their most recent work last month at the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society annual conference in Buenos Aires.