A New Kind of Race

The University of Florida held a fully technology-based sport: The world's first brain-controlled drone race. Using their brainwaves, 16 pilots flew drones through an indoor course ten yards long. Both drone-racing and brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are not new, but this is the first combination of the two, and it's an efficient method of introducing BCIs to the mainstream eye.

BCI is a system that translates brain signals into commands comprehensible to output devices. Most often, this technology is used to allow individuals who are paralyzed to have control of prosthetic limbs.

How it Works

To make this possible, electroencephalogram headsets are calibrated to an individual’s brain. The calibration is pretty much like programming commands on your keyboard for a game, where you specify that certain letters move your character up, down, left, and right. Except in this case, each person’s neuron activity is used, translated, and recorded into these commands.

Human-centered computing Phd student Chris Crawford thinks making BCIs a familiar concept to the public is a good way to spread awareness of the existence and accessibility of the technology. “With events like this, we're popularizing the use of BCI instead of it being stuck in the research lab," he says. "BCI was a technology that was geared specifically for medical purposes, and in order to expand this to the general public, we actually have to embrace these consumer brand devices and push them to the limit."

Some experts, however, fear legal, ethical, and privacy issues. For one thing, drones are also being used by the military to kill suspected terrorists in the Middle East, and they are on the lookout for similar BCI technologies.

Kit Walsh, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation with a degree in neuroscience from MIT thinks people should be careful of participating in such activities. "EEG readings are similar to fingerprints: once I know what the readings look like from your brain in a certain situation," she said. "I'll be able to recognize you by that pattern again later on."

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