University of Florida Holds First Brain-Powered Drone Race

Students at University of Florida used brain waves to move drones.

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Apr 23 2016, 7:00pm

Image: University of Florida/YouTube

An announcer shouts "Three, two, one, go!" and several drones take off, whizzing around a Florida gymnasium and racing towards the finish line. The sport of drone racing has been taking off in recent years, with new leagues and competitions popping up around the world, but this race is different: the drones are being directed by users' minds.

The brain drone race is the first of its kind, according to Juan Gilbert, a professor of computer science at the University of Florida where the competition took place. The race works by fitting pilots with a Brain Computer Interface device, which sits on users' heads and measures electrical signals from the brain. Users "think forward," to move the drone forward, and "think right or left" to move it from side to side.

"We learn to navigate the drone based on brain patterns for specific things you are thinking about," Gilbert said.

A total of 16 pilots participated in the competition using this brain computer interface technology. Students involved said they are working to make users more comfortable with the brain-reading technology. In the past, EEG headsets have been used for everything from helping paralyzed people gain more autonomy to video games and meditation. Some privacy advocates have expressed concern that someday we will be able to be identified by our "brain prints."

The technology is still being perfected, but students at the university say the brain-drone action could be used in many aspects of our lives.

"We're starting a new trend in society; there will be future brain drone competitions," Gilbert said. "We are starting with a simple little race right now––who knows where this will go?"