Soon, soldiers might be able to control a drone with nothing more than their minds.
The Defense Department recently awarded a $300,000 grant to the University of Texas at San Antonio's Unmanned Systems Laboratory (USL) to study how humans “effectively interact” with drones and other autonomous aerial vehicles (AUV), according to a university statement.
The USL will work on developing a technique that will allow soldiers to control drones with their thoughts for the purposes of collecting intelligence, performing surveillance and conducting reconnaissance missions.
"Think of how we are controlling machines now," said Daniel Pack, chairman of UTSA's department of electrical and computer engineering and head of the USL. "We use our hands, joysticks, keyboards, some physical movement or mechanism that is associated with control. What we are trying to do is to figure out a way to interact with these machines without these mechanisms."
As part of the project, researchers will conduct experiments where participants will be asked to stare at a screen displaying a series of dots blinking at specific frequencies while wearing electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment that measures the user's electric brain activity.
The frequency of each blinking dot will generate a near identical pattern in the person's brain. These frequencies are then recorded, assigned to a specific action for the drone, and then coded into the actual AUV. In essence, each command will have a corresponding frequency. This neurological phenomenon is known as "steady state visually evoked potentials."
Pack and his team are not the only researchers exploring the idea. In 2012, researchers from China's Zhejiang University created the FlyingBuddy2, a mind-controlled quadrotor machine made for individuals with disability.
Earlier this year, scientists at Germany's Technical University of Munich successfully tested a flight simulator that was operated by the test subject's brain activity.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.