A student guides the drone with just her mind. Drones in this race were controlled by using BCI software (via University of Florida)
These days drones are as common as Windows updates. Whether big businesses use them to deliver your unnecessary Amazon purchase or you just want to build them, drones are used for just about everything. So, it should be no surprised to learn about drone racing. What started as an activity exclusive within the drone community, has become a huge event that has even caught the attention of ESPN.
Though drone races are pretty common, what isn't common are brain controlled drone races. Recently, University of Florida held the world's first drone race using brain-computer interface (BCI) software to control a group of DJI Phantom drones. Of course the drones didn't zip by like Speed Racer. Rather the sixteen pilots used their brainwaves to fly drones down a 10-yard indoor course. It may not be the most exciting race to watch, but you have to admit racing drones with your mind is pretty amazing. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie that's actually a reality.
The technology behind BCI racing is each of pilots wear electroencephalogram headsets calibrated to each wearer's brain. This allows the headset to identify electrical activity associated with particular thoughts, like where neurons fire when the wearer imagine pushing a chair across the floor. Programmers then write code to translate these motion signals into commands that computers send to the drones.
“With events like this, we're popularizing the use of BCI instead of it being stuck in the research lab," said Chris Crawford, a PhD student in human-centered computing. "BCI was a technology that was geared specifically for medical purposes, and in order to expand this to the general public, we actually have to embrace these consumer brand devices and push them to the limit.”
University of Florida wants other universities to form their own brain-drone racing teams for 2017 as a way to further increase interest in the technology. Usually BCI research has been used to help disabled people regain and keep their freedom of movement. A recent example of this is an Ohio man moving his paralyzed hand with his thoughts thanks to a chip implanted in his brain.
Though the thought of using the technology outside of the medical field is exciting, but enthusiasts should be weary about using their brainwaves. "EEG readings are similar to fingerprints: once I know what the readings look like from your brain in a certain situation," said Kit Walsh, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "I'll be able to recognize you by that pattern again later on.” See even more at BrainDroneRace.com
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