A researcher at Arizona State University has discovered how to control multiple robotic drones using the human brain. A controller wears a skull cap outfitted with 128 electrodes wired to a computer. The device records electrical brain activity. If the controller moves a hand or thinks of something, certain areas light up.
"I can see that activity from outside," said Panagiotis Artemiadis, director of the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab and an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport, and Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. "Our goal is to decode that activity to control variables for the robots."
If the user is thinking about decreasing cohesion between the drones (spreading them out, in other words) "we know what part of the brain controls that thought," Artemiadis said.
A wireless system sends the thought to the robots. "We have a motion-capture system that knows where the quads are, and we change their distance, and that;s it," he said.
Up to four small robots, some of which fly, can be controlled with brain interfaces. Joysticks don't work, because they can only control one craft at a time.
"You can't do something collectively" with a joystick, Artemiadis said. "If you want to swarm around an area and guard that area, you cannot do that."
To make them move, the controller watches on a monitor and thinks and pictures the drones performing various tasks.
Artemiadis has been working on the brain-to-machine interface since he earned his doctorate in 2009.