'Pure thought': Edmonton graduates using brain waves to fly drones
A group of university graduates from Edmonton have created a computer program that allows them to fly drones with brain waves instead of using a remote control.
The project was developed by MacEwan University graduate John Simmonds who wanted to create it for his final school project, telling CTV Edmonton's Dan Grummett in an interview that he was not expecting the technology to work.
But to Simmonds' surprise, it did.
"It just went up and it went right into the roof, went into the wall, broke into a million pieces and we were like, 'Yes!'" said Simmonds.
Using a 3D-printed electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that reads electrical impulses from the scalp, the program converts those impulses to signals that tell the drone what to do and where to go.
The group says flying it takes immense concentration and the pilot must block out all distractions to focus on what "up" and "down" means to them.
"If I wanted the drone to go forward, I was thinking I'm doing a pushup," said fellow MacEwan grad Stephen Doyle. "In my mind, my arms are pushing off the ground."
Each time Doyle imagines doing a push-up, the program records the electrical activity in his brain and uses an algorithm for the drone to interpret it as a direction.
While controlling a drone with one's brain isn't new -- students at the University of Florida previously tapped into the technology a few years ago -- the group says with more research, new versions could have countless applications.
"The idea of [using] pure thought in being able to accomplish a goal opens the door for endless possibilities," said Doyle.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau issued new regulations for the use of drones in Canada earlier this year, from banning drunk droning, to banning drones from flying in airspace near emergency scenes and airports.
There is currently no information on how those rules apply if a Canadian is controlling a drone with telekinesis.
For now the project is progressing slowly, as the grads work regular jobs and continue developing the brain-controlled technology on the weekends.
But they say the project's potential is always on their minds.