Pentagon tests electric brain stimulation as alternative to coffee

The Pentagon is Spending $1 Million to Replace Coffee

The Pentagon is Spending $1 Million to Replace Coffee

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Feb. 18 2014 6:34 PM

The Pentagon is Trying to Replace Coffee with Electric Brain Stimulation

A Mikado drone of the Bundeswehr flies during a show of German soldiers at Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan on December 23, 2013.

Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images

Watching drone footage makes you sleepy and coffee only goes so far. That’s why the Pentagon is trying to develop a new way to increase attention: electric brain stimulation. Researchers are testing two non-invasive methods which pass small amounts of electrical current into the brain. Here’s the Boston Globe with the details:

In one scenario, the test subjects — some who received caffeine, some brain stimulation, and the rest nothing — were kept awake for a full 30 hours to see who would measure best in wakefulness and vigor.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Staff Sergeant William Raybon, one of the participants. “When I was initially hooked up to the electrodes there was a small tingling sensation.
But he said that despite being so sleep-deprived, he felt “refreshed” after undergoing the treatment.
Subjects such as Raybon who received the brain stimulation “performed about twice as well as people who got nothing,” said [R. Andy McKinley, a biomedical engineer who oversees the research].

Electric stimulation test subjects also outperformed those on caffeine and didn’t suffer from side effects like jitters and a crash come down. But before you get too excited, there are some kinks to work out such as skin irritation from electrodes, headaches, and the big question, long-term safety. Translation, it may be a while until the high-tech coffee substitute becomes standard issue and even longer until the hardware becomes available to civilians.