Student-Pilots Race Drones Using Their Minds

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Several drones-related projects have been seen in which these flying devices have been controlled using brain activity. But for the first time, pilots have to think very hard to compete with each other in a drone race. This has been done by students at the University of Florida.

Drones race

The Brain Drone Race included 16 pilots, and the university hopes that such a race will inspire others to develop the technology. The race, which was hosted by the university last week, offered entrants lucrative prizes such as a GoPro Hero4, an Apple Watch Sport and Beats Studio Wireless Headphones.

“A competition of one’s cognitive ability and mental endurance requiring competitors to out-focus an opponent in a drone drag race fueled by electrical signals emitted from the brain,” says the sponsors of the race.

It can’t be said that the race was a real one as it involved low speeds and a short 10-yard indoor course. But the focus was primarily on the control scheme rather than the thrill of the event. The student-pilots had to work really hard to get their drones off the ground and move forward.

Very useful for the disabled

These students used Emotiv Insight EEG headsets, first to read their brain activity and then to translate and transmit it in real-time to control the drone. It may sound quite simple, but it’s surely not. The pilot has to assign a certain command to certain thoughts, for instance, thinking of steering the drone to the left side will trigger certain neurons. Also since brain activity is different for everyone, each pilot needs to develop his/her own sets of control programs for their brain.

TechCrunch described how the technology works: “Pilots don electroencephalogram headsets that are calibrated to each wearer’s brain. For example, neuron activity will be recorded when the wearer is told to think about pushing something forward. This activity is then bound to the forward stick on the drone’s controller, so future similar neuron activity will move the drone forward.”

As can be seen in the video, the brain-controlled drones are not exactly race-ready yet, but as the technology improves, we may expect them to see more into our daily activities and lives. Also the technology will help the disabled to control not only drones but also devices like wheelchairs and artificial limbs with their thoughts.

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