This Saturday, the University of South Florida (USF) is holding an event during which teams will race drones using their brains.
The 2019 USF Brain-Drone Race is being organized by assistant professor Marvin Andujar from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. He led a University of Florida group that started the competition in 2016.
“It’s been amazing to see how much interest there’s been in the field since our first Brain-Drone Race,” Andujar says. “For us, the racing is a way to introduce young people, students and others to this technology and hopefully spur more research into neuro-technologies.”
According to USF, the underlying technology is part of a much larger field of study into brain-computer interfaces (BCI), a term first coined in the 1970s. BCIs are devices that create a pathway between the brain and an external device, such as a drone, computer or prosthetic limb, the university explains.
BCI technology reads the brain’s electrical signals to function. Every time we think about something or move a muscle, the neurons in our brain send electrical signals to one another. Through technological advances and the development of wearable electroencephalography (EEG) systems, scientists are able to detect and interpret these signals. By doing so, they can then translate the electrical signals into commands for external devices.
When the technology is applied to drone racing, researchers link a specific brainwave pattern to forward movement in the drone. So, when the pilot, who is outfitted with an EEG headband, produces that pattern, the drone is signaled to move.
“When you imagine a movement, your brain produces the same electrical activity as if you were performing the movement with you muscles,” Andujar says. “For drone racing, we have our pilots imagine they’re pushing an object forward. Then, we capture that signal, classify it and send the information to the drone, which has already been programmed to move when it receives that data.”