Two words- Mind. Blown.

Technology powered by your mind. Is it a little ironic to ask you to imagine a world where we control things with our thoughts? It’s called BCI and it stands for brain-computer interface, a collaboration between brain and technology. It enables signals from the brain to direct external activity.

Scientists have had the ability to detect brainwaves for over a century and mind-controlled tech is already providing medical breakthroughs and helping paralyzed people move limbs or robotic prosthetics. It is only just recently the technology is becoming widely accessible. You’re now able to purchase electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets online for a few hundred dollars. The EEG headsets are what we’re seeing with the latest brain powered drone races.

How does the technology work?

Each EEG headset is calibrated to identify the electrical activity associated with particular thoughts in an individual’s brain. For example, where neurons fire when the wearer imagines pushing a chair across the floor. Programmers write code to translate these “imaginary motion” signals into commands. As we continue to become more and more reliant on our tech devices, specifically on our internet-enabled devices, we’ll see science diving deeper into discovering how mind-controlled devices can expand and change the way we live, work and play.

A Race to the Future

Recently the EEG headsets were put into practice with a friendly competition held at the University of Florida. While drone races are nothing new, controlling them with your mind is definitely a new thing. The University of Florida did this for the first time by using BCI software to control a group of DJI Phantom drones. While these drones weren’t exactly zipping around the course, 16 pilots used their brainwaves to fly them down a 10-yard indoor course.

Flying drones
Image via computerboat.com

This is huge, there could be a day when we use our minds to unlock our cars, or explore a virtual world, hands-free. We’ll see the technology used in many ways. As we mentioned it’s already making strides in the medical field, but it could also start to have an impact in the psychological field, monitoring our moods and states of consciousness. The technology is limited only by the human imagination.

Ethical Implications

As the technology moves toward a wider adoption, we have to take into consideration the ethical, legal and privacy questions that still remain unresolved. Today drones are used by the U.S. Defense Department for military purposes. The department is starting to look at military brain-control applications as additional options for national security. Though the technology isn’t ready for military deployment, a 2014 grant supports the Unmanned Systems Laboratory at the University of Texas, San Antonio. Researchers at the Unmanned Systems Laboratory have developed a system where a single person with no prior training can fly multiple drones simultaneously with mind control. You can see where the ethical and legal implications get dicey.

While there are still some kinks to be worked out, the scientific discoveries that have been made in BCI are quite remarkable. There’s no telling how powerful our brains could become with science helping to unlock some of the hidden potential. Our daily lives could really see a large shift if/ when BCI becomes mainstream and accessible to the general population. We’ll continue to watch the development of BCI with bated breath.