Apr 27, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Mind-Controlled Drones Are Coming to Airspace Near You

The University of Florida recently hosted a drone flying competition made unique by the method pilots are using to control their drones: telekinesis. Yes, you read that correctly. Drone pilots from all over the world have gathered in Gainesville, Florida in order to race drones piloted exclusively through brain waves. This type of technology is known as brain-computer interface, or BCI.

A pilot flying a BCI-controlled drone.

BCI pilots wear special headsets equipped with EEG sensors that can detect and interpret their brainwaves. Pilots go through an initial calibration phase in which brainwave patterns are recorded while performing physical movements. Afterwards, pilots can simply think of making certain bodily motions, causing their motor neurons to fire even without actually moving their bodies.

The same technology is already being developed in order to create robotic prosthetic devices than can respond directly to wearer’s brainwaves, enabling them to directly control prosthetic limbs as if they were their own. Potential further applications could include using one’s brain to control any number of smart devices in one’s home, or enabling disabled individuals to control surrogate robots that can venture out into places they cannot.

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An EEG sensor-equipped headset.

BCI technology, while having nearly unlimited consumer applications, is already being eyed for use in military weaponry. The University of Texas San Antonio was awarded a $300,000 U.S. Department of Defense grant to develop BCI-controlled drones for military reconnaissance applications. This technology could potentially allow one pilot to simultaneously control a small swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles.

A drone pilot using a BCI headset.

Whether this technology will be used for the good of humanity or for the growth of the military industrial complex has yet to be seen - hopefully it will land somewhere in the middle. Whatever the case, keep your eyes to the skies as these mind-controlled drones begin rolling out into the hands of both consumers and militaries over the next few years.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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