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The first brain-controlled drone race just took place in Florida

  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

In the future, if you want to go somewhere or have your robot do something, you might only have to think about it.

The University of Florida held a race April 22 which it called the first drone race controlled by the thoughts of the pilots. According to Motherboard, the pilots used a device that measured the electrical signals from their brains, called a brain-computer interface (or BCI) to direct the drones.

University of Florida/Bernard Brzezinski
A pilot getting fitted with a BCI.

The pilots look at a computer program, think about going “forward,” and the drones slowly move ahead.

“Think forward—think about pushing a chair forward,” Juan Gilbert, a computer science professor at the University of Florida, said in a video released by the university. “We learn to navigate the drone based on brain patterns for specific things you are thinking about.”

University of Florida/Bernard Brzezinski
The program that pilots are looking at—they have to concentrate on the object on screen to move their drone.

These drones weren’t blistering around a racetrack at 70 mph as most drone races tend to do—instead, the drones were slowly, jerkily moving forward and side-to-side, as the pilots tried to concentrate at moving them.

University of Florida?Bernard Brzezinski
Not quite FPV drone racing—yet.

BCIs are not yet at the point that we can use them as easily as we might a handheld controller. But similar technology is being developed to allow amputees to control robotic limbs. In the future, we may well be able to recreate Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand from Star Wars. We all may have the power to control objects like a Jedi, assuming technology is robust enough to make sure we don’t crash into everything.

“We’re starting a new trend in society,” Gilbert said. “We’re starting out with a simple little race right now, but who knows where this will go.”

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