J. D. Heyes
June 19, 2013
Technology is constantly expanding, and this is particularly true when it comes to unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones are quickly gaining popularity with the military, government institutions and in the civilian sector and uses for UAVs are expected to expand dramatically in the years to come – so much so that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been charged with developing new rules governing their deployment.
In fact, UAV technology has now progressed to the point where they can be controlled by thought. Per tech website PopSci:
Researchers at the University of Minnesota [have] revealed a drone that can be controlled merely by thought, and that’s not even the coolest thing about it. Published in the Journal of Neuro Engineering, the project has implications in everything from unmanned vehicles to paraplegic mobility.
According to researchers, the futuristic capabilities are actually very basic. The drone itself is now commercially available as a four-blade helicopter called the Parrot AR quadrotor, which is essentially a drone hobbyist’s Model T (the first mass-produced automobile).
A funny hat and a laptop
“To control it, the ‘pilot’ wears a funny hat, the sensing end of an electroencephalogram (EEG),” PopSci reported. “EEGs place an array of electrodes over a person’s head, in a totally non-invasive way, then pick up on electrical activity in the brain. Clusters of activity, like thinking about making a fist with a right hand, generates a spark in a specific area of the brain. That spark gets translated through a computer into a quadrotor command (‘turn right’). The command is then beamed to the quadrotor via WiFi.”
This particular drone appears to have a lot of medical potential. In the past, researchers have demonstrated that users could control a virtual helicopter using just their thoughts. But in this latest demo, subjects were able to use a real helicopter, bringing UAV science another step closer to a host of more practical applications.
The ultimate goal, say researchers, is to develop a drone that can assist people who have neurodegenerative diseases and other disabilities regain mobility. And using a drone to demonstrate the capability makes sense, according to Bin He, a professor of biomedicial engineering at the University of Michigan.
“It’s more manageable to test in protocol than it is to do on a patient with a prosthetic arm,” he said.
In a recently published research paper the pilot of the drone is illustrated as someone who is sitting in a wheelchair positioned in front of a laptop that is live-streaming everything seen by the drone. While a thought-controlled wheelchair might help a person more, ground-bound wheelchairs hardly ever encounter what drones do everyday – maneuvering in 3-D space.
“Flying a drone through a hoop turns out to be good practice for maneuvering a hand to a mouth, say, or putting an arm through a sleeve,” PopSci reported.
Scientists say the system is relatively easy to use. Five student pilots were trained using a series of exercises; the first game looked like “Pong,” where the pilot uses EEG controls to move a dot on a screen to the right or left.
“The second controlled up/down motions, a third combined them all in a similar, pong-like interface, and the fourth exercise before actually piloting the drone involved a flight simulation of the drone through hoops above an imaginary town,” reports PopSci.
Meanwhile, in China…
Chinese researchers are working with a similar mind-controlled drone concept. According to RT.com, that technology, too, is designed to assist those with disabilities and who are wheel-chair bound.
According to RT.com:
…[R]esearchers at Zhejiang University shows how the system, called Flybuddy2, works. And it appears that you don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to build one. All you need is an EEG headset with a Bluetooth connection to a laptop – plus a quadrotor Parrot AR Drone linked to the computer.
While this particular use of drone technology appears to be beneficial to mankind, too much of it is not. Drones have increased the size of the Big Brother surveillance society, for example, and threaten to destroy what little is left of privacy.
Sources for this article include:
This article was posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 4:51 am