Say hi to drone acharyas

Indoor drone testing at the Indian Institute of Science.

A team of city scientists has developed a mind-controlled drone. The idea was curated by S N Omkar, chief research scientist of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

“My students and I have been working on this for two months. We are the first to develop a mind-controlled drone in our country,” he told Metrolife.

The project opens up a whole range of possibilities, particularly for people with disabilities, says Omkar.

The drone operator wears an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset. The operators wear electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets, fine-tuned to determine the electrical activity linked with specific thoughts in the brain. This headset can also be used to control all electronic devices.

“EEG, the headset, has a training protocol, which channelises the thoughts. Eye gestures can also be used to control them, but right now we are mainly focusing on thoughts,” adds Omkar.

Omkar, who is also a yoga guru, propagates yoga in the use of mind-controlled equipment. “Meditation helps us clear our minds which in turn helps in transmitting the proper signals,” he adds.

Saumya Kumaar Saksena, IISc alumnus who was part of the project, says it taught him things beyond science.

“This project was part of my undergraduate final year thesis. While developing the prototype of a brain-computer interface-based drone, we also got to learn a few life values. The difficulties we faced made taught us that no matter what, we should never give up,” says Saumya, now a graduate student, Robotics and mechanics, University of Twente, Netherlands.

The project was sponsored by the Joint Advanced Technology Programme of the IISc. It is about analysing the use of brain waves in flight dynamics, he says.

“We successfully tested the algorithm at a speed of 60Hz for multirotor UAVs (unnamed aerial vehicles) for the main four control commands (left, right, up and down) with an accuracy of 85%. Our next design approach achieved 99% accuracy with the help of deep neural networks, the highest in the world for any real time BCI (brain-computer interface) application,”
he explains.

How does it work?

The headset or an electroencephalogram (EEG) device is fixed on your scalp which picks up your brain’s electrical impulses and records them on a computer.

The signals then are converted into commands by an electronic device (most likely a laptop) to fly the drone.

The focused thought of the brain or the electrical activity of the brain is captured by this EEG device and the signals are wirelessly sent to a laptop.

Algorithms residing in the laptop convert these signals into command inputs for the drone or any other electronic devices for suitable action.

What its tech can be used for

Unlock your car, house door, etc.
Explore a virtual world, hands-free
Monitor moods and states of consciousness
Operate gadgets and wheelchairs

Security concerns

Enthusiasts should think carefully before handing over their brainwaves for purposes yet to be conceived. But since EEG readings are similar to fingerprints, the signal sender’s patterns can be recognised. The signals are encrypted and can’t be easily hijacked, says Omkar.

S N Omkar ‘s research interests are:

Helicopter dynamics

Satellite image processing

Biomechanics

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