UFTI’s Dr. Juan Gilbert Leads Nation’s 1st Brain-Drone Race

From New York Times to CNET, news outlets across the U.S. were abuzz when brain-controlled drones raced last month. What is being called the nation’s 1st “Brain-Drone Race” was held at the University of Florida on April 16, 2016, with UFTI affiliate Dr. Juan Gilbert at the helm.

Professor Juan Gilbert, chairman of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Department at the University of Florida, was doing research on Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) with his students when they decided to connect robots with mind power for a literal brain-powered drone race.  UF students discuss how they are coming at drones from a user perspective, rather than a technology focus in their BrainDroneRace.com video.

Brain-Drone Racing pits the cognitive abilities and mental endurance of competitors against each other. Focus is the key, fueled by electrical signals emitted from the brain, communicated to a drone via a BCI headset. Sixteen students competed in the April competition, who were excited about the possibilities this held for the future. The implications for brain-controlled robotics are far beyond racing competitions.  Students at UF are contemplating how they can use this technology outside the lab in everyday life tasks, as well as how to present the ideas so that people are comfortable with having robots at home, controlled with mind power.

“Imagine people wearing these devices like wrist watches on a daily basis to interact and engage with other devices,” said Gilbert. “Will using your mind in this capacity improve your brain health? Will we discover early indicators of brain disease? We had calls from all over the world from people wanting to know if we can control wheelchairs and other devices. The implications are many and the future is very bright.”

Drone racing was recently billed as “the next NASCAR,” following a TV deal with ESPN. A multi-year deal between ESPN and the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) will produce a National Drone Racing Championship in New York this August. Read more about the broadcast in this WIRED magazine article.

UFTI anticipates mind-powered transportation aspects resulting from their research and experiments. To keep current on UF’s Brain-Drone Race activities, check out their webpage: http://braindronerace.com/