The University of Florida held the world's first race of mind-controlled drones on April 16, igniting exciting opportunities for such futuristic interface outside of the laboratory.
The competition enlisted 16 participants, who used nothing but willpower to drive the drones across a 10-yard indoor basketball court.
Brain Computer Interface
Brain Computer Interface (BCI) is a technology that enables humans to manipulate machines using their thoughts.
Such technology used to be aligned in the medical field, with some paralyzed people already helped by mind-controlled limb prosthetics.
Chris Crawford, a PhD student from the university says, however, that to broaden the use of BCI to the public, experts have to fully accept these consumer brand devices and push them as far as possible.
Indeed, the technology has become so increasingly popular and now, widely available. In fact, headsets from startups NeuroSky and Emotiv used for BCI can now be bought online for a several hundred dollars.
How Mind-Controlled Drones Work
The pilots wear electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets, which are fine-tuned to determine the electrical activity linked with specific thoughts in the brain. For example, it will identify where brain cells fire when the EEG headset wearer imagines a pushing table across the floor.
The programmers will then write codes to turn these signals into commands that the computer will send to the drones.
The competition drew praises from experts. One of them is University of Minnesota's Dr. Bin He, who first presented a mind-controlled drone in 2013.
"The progress of the BCI field has been faster than I had thought ten years ago," He says. "We are getting closer and closer to broad application."
Other Applications Of BCI
Juan Gilbert, the professor of the students who organized the race, says people's lives are becoming more reliant on Internet-based devices. With this, he and his team would like to explore how mind-controlled devices can advance and alter the way people work, have fun and live.
The possibilities with these devices are endless - they may be used to unlock the house door, take a step into the virtual world and monitor people's moods, among many others.
Gilbert says the day might come when people could don a brain-controlled gadget like a watch to interact with things in the surroundings.