Handheld devices whose specific use is to control something have been around for quite awhile. Video games and RC devices have used these hand-held controllers approximately the entire time they’ve existed. After such a long time, we seem to have come to a standardized controller setup. Companies such as Nintendo and Microsoft have attempted to overhaul this basic setup, but their innovations have typically been met with pushback as soon as users realized the standardized design was simply better.
Even through all of this, however, people have long theorized using direct control over a machine through brain power. In the past, this wasn’t a viable option primarily because the tech hadn’t caught up to the idea. However, with all the advances in brain imaging and mapping, more and more ambitious experiments are popping up. (e.g. restoring motor skills to an amputee)
Back in April, researchers from the University of Florida held a very short mind-controlled drone race. Using their brain-computer interface (BCI) system, participants took control over a single drone and gingerly pushed it around with their brain activity. Thoughts about moving objects left, right, etc were translated from the brain signals into commands for the drone through the program the team used.
This by itself is amazingly cool, but they’ve recently pushed the tech a bit further. Director of the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab at Arizona State University, Panagiotis Aremiadis had this to say about things.
“There has not been a lot of research on how one single human can control multiple robots.”
“We started with the idea of human-swarm interaction; we record it from the brain,” he said in a video produced by ASU. “We actually saw that the brain really cares about collective behaviors of swarms and now we know where to record from and what to see from the brain signals in order to decode that to collective behaviors for aerial vehicles and swarms of robots.”
Now, this type of research obviously has an immediate military use, and the U.S. Department of Defense agrees. However, this type of progress will have an enormous impact on a huge number of different competitions around the world, including drone racing and video games. An update to the way we control other things can severely change the way we conduct races, and leaves open a huge amount of potential innovation across the board. It still appears the research is still years off from being usable for the common consumer, but we don’t get to see this type of promise very often.
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