brain drones
February 26, 2015

We now have brain-controlled drones

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - @BednarChuck

Researchers have successfully demonstrated a brain-to-computer interface that makes it possible to control an unmanned drone with your mind, the aerospace firm responsible for developing the technology revealed Tuesday in a blog post.

Officials from that company, Tekever, and a team of European researchers successfully tested out their Brainflight technology during a public demonstration held earlier this week in Lisbon, Portugal. Using a cap capable of detecting mental activity, Brainflight enables pilots to use their thoughts to control an unmanned vehicle, according to Engadget reports.

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While the controller has to learn how to fly on their own, the website said that it does not take too long to guide the drone simply by thinking about where you want it to go, and there are no health risks involved – the device uses algorithms to prevent seizures from occurring.

In addition to Tekever, experts from the Champalimaud Foundation in Portugal, Eagle Science in the Netherlands and Germany’s Technische Universität München played key roles in developing Brainflight, which operates using high-performance electroencephalogram (EEG) systems.

It's electric

The system’s EEG technology measures brain waves noninvasively, then uses algorithms to convert brain signals into drone commands. Essentially, the company explains, the electricity that flows through the operator’s brain acts as an input to the drone control system in order to complete mission objectives pre-defined by the research team.

“The project has successfully demonstrated that the use of the brain computer interface (BMI) on a simulator for the Diamond DA42 aircraft,” Tekever COO Ricardo Mendes said. “We’ve also integrated the BMI [and] the UAV ground systems and have successfully tested it in UAV simulators. We’re now taking it one step further, and performing live flight tests with the UAV.”

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Tekever officials told BBC News that the technology could be used in the short term to enable people with impaired mobility to control aircraft, and in the long term, it could allow larger jets and cargo planes to be controlled remotely.

Everybody now:

“This is an amazing high-risk and high-payoff project, with long-term impact that has already provided excellent results and will require further technology maturation,” Mendes added. “We truly believe that Brainflight represents the beginning of a tremendous step change in the aviation field, empowering pilots and de-risking missions, and we’re looking forward to deliver these benefits to the market with highly innovative products.”

Just another everyday activity

Tekever said that their system combines aeronautical systems engineering with neuroscience, and explores a pair of different BCI approaches. Brainflight researchers had previously used the BMI system in the Diamond DA42, a four-seat, twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft simulator, and the company said that the flight test was the final validation of their technology.

“We believe people will be able to pilot aircraft just like they perform everyday activities like walking or running,” Mendes told the BBC. “We truly believe that Brainflight represents the beginning of a tremendous step change in the aviation field, empowering pilots and de-risking missions, and we're looking forward to deliver these benefits to the market with highly innovative products.”

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However, London-based independent aviation consultant John Strickland told the British news organization that he believed that it was unlikely that the industry would adopt the technology due to potential safety issues. Rather, he said that the industry was focusing its research efforts on things such as better building materials and more economical aircraft engines.

“This to me is certainly at the moment a bridge too far,” Strickland added. “You could get someone radically-minded who might say it, but I'd be surprised if anyone would do it.”

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