An Arizona State University researcher named Panagiotis Artemiadis has come up with a way to use the human mind in order to control robotic drones. An operator simply has to put on a skullcap that is wired directly to a computer with 128 electrodes. Brain activity is recorded and every time the controller has a thought or moves his hand, certain areas on the computer begin to light up.
Artemiadis is the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab director at the university and is also a mechanical and aerospace engineering assistant professor at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. His team is working on decoding this computer activity to make the thoughts understandable to the robots. For example, if the operator wants to spread out the drones, it could be done through the thought process.
Artemiadis says that his team knows what section of the brain is making these thoughts. Once a specific thought has been processed and captured through the wireless system, it can be sent out to the drones. At this point, their distances between each other will change through a motion-capture system.
Joysticks are currently only able to control one drone at a time. With this process, up to 4 could be handled collectively. If a company or even a country needs to guard a certain area and swarm around it, it cannot be done with a simple joystick.
This is not science fiction and it’s something that Artemiadis has been perfecting since 2009 when he received his doctorate. The drones appear on a monitor and the controller, wearing his skullcap, makes a mental image picture and thinks about the various tasks he would like them to perform. In this way he could make them move in any direction he chooses.
Artemiadis says that a lot of research has been going on in the last 20 to 30 years regarding a machine/brain interface that would be able to control one machine. He has specifically been working on this type of machine as well; especially in the form of neural interfaces that connect with the arms and hands of a robot. He is also now working on swarms.
This researcher has been keeping up with the times and is working with the ongoing trend that many small spacecraft, planes or space machines would work better than simply one large unit. If you have only one machine and that gives out you’re in trouble. If you have many, and you lose only half, you still have more that will carry on with the tasks.
In order to send the right processes to the computer, the controller must not be hungry or physically or mentally tired. He must be able to be completely focused on the task at hand. Also, the machine has to be calibrated anew every day because the signals from the brain can change from one day to the next. As well, when a new operator puts on the skullcap, the system needs to be re-calibrated.
Artemiadis learned a lot about the brain while conducting his research. He was surprised to find out that the brain is adaptable and cares about certain things that are out of our immediate control. For example, the brain doesn’t control swarms of things but it does care about them.
Artemiadis’ research includes testing multiple people in order to control a number of robots. He’ll need to move into a bigger space in order to conduct further research and to refine it. He believes that it’s completely possible to use drone swarms for search and rescue tasks and other involved operations in the days to come.