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article imageBrain waves used to control the flight of drones

By Tim Sandle     May 22, 2016 in Science
It is possible, through the use of computers, to control an object with thought. This has been extended to drones, thanks to a University of Florida in Gainesville student project.
The controlling of drones via the thoughts of the students represented a world first. This was made possible using technology called Brain Computer Interface. With this method, specific neuronal activity going in the brain is collected via an electroencephalogram. The capture process is via a special headset.
The Brain Computer Interface technology has been successfully used in medical science, such as allowing someone with a prosthetic limb to control the appendage. A second example is with someone who has a neurodegenerative disease being able to control an electrical wheelchair.
The project of applying the Brain Computer Interface technology to the control of a drone was led by Professor Juan Gilbert in conjunction with degree students. After several months of work, the students were able, via the headsets, to think about key functions that a drone would undertake — such as raising the drone off the ground, propelling the drone forward and landing the craft — and translate these into actual control movements.
The complexity was with the individual students since each person’s thoughts have a unique pattern. Thus the electroencephalogram aspect needed to be calibrated for each wearer of the headset. This process involved recording key commands (as thoughts) and noting the pattern of neuron activity. These patterns then needed to be translated into computer code. The code was then built into receivers that allowed the software in a drone to decode it.
To test out the effectiveness, the students took part in a drone race. The race took place in the campus grounds, across a distance of around 10 yards. The drones moved through the air somewhat slower than drones controlled by traditional means, as the video below shows:
Nonetheless, the mind control experiment could represent a step-forwards in human interfacing technology and this may, one day, be commonplace.
Speaking with Laboratory Roots, Professor Gilbert stated: "the implications are far beyond the race. It's fascinating. It's the first of its kind. It's the future."
In related news, drones are being trialed to catch people dropping litter in key beauty spots. Dubai is one of the first territories to use drones for this purpose.
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