Uncrewed Systems Technology 043 l Auve Tech Iseauto taxi l Charging focus l Advanced Navigation Hydrus l UGVs insight l MVVS 116 l Windracers ULTRA l CES 2022 show report l ECUs focus I Distant Imagery

114 PS | Mind-controlled UAVs I n the course of our previous investigations into GCSs, we have detailed the ways that the physical burden of control interfaces on unmanned systems operators is getting lighter (writes Rory Jackson). Rather than being static computer consoles, laptops, tablets and even smartphones can now be used as GCS platforms. That makes sense. Technology tends to become lighter and more powerful over time, and with autonomous vehicles increasingly being deployed from moving platforms it is critical that the operator is as mobile as possible. They cannot be though if they have to carry a large and heavy console around. Even VR and AR headsets are being looked into as head-mounted GCSs. Some innovators have discussed combining them with hand signals and voice commands to control their autonomous vehicles, thereby keeping their hands free for other tasks. However, VR/AR headsets can be bulky, hot, claustrophobic and poorly balanced for weight distribution, while noise and low visibility could interfere with commands. These factors, combined with the risk of handheld or head-worn equipment breaking down in the field – and the difficulty of their operation by people of different abilities – raises the question of what could be more convenient and less hazardous. One intriguing possibility has recently been raised by Ultra Electronics in the UK. Its proposal is a prototype system for piloting UAVs using one’s brain. The company’s technology, in development for several years now, consists of a sensor-equipped pilot looking at a computer screen with a number of shapes on it that correspond to basic movements for the UAV. Embedded in the shapes are visual stimulators to generate a unique response in the operator’s eyes corresponding with how the visual cortex reacts to the stimulators, and the sensors detect these and transmit them as commands to the UAV. While not quite ‘mind control’, it nonetheless represents a completely hands-free and voice-free means of operating an unmanned system. Ultra is not the only organisation looking into mind control: the technology has also been developed and explored by Dr Chris Crawford of the University of Alabama. In his version, the operator wears a cap containing an EEG monitor that detects electrical activity in the brain, with particular focus on activities in its motor cortex. This part of the brain ‘lights up’ in response to the body’s movement, allowing the cap to send a command signal to a UAV when it is at least 80% certain that it has detected motor cortex activity corresponding to the operator’s left hand for instance. To promote further r&d of this technology, Dr Crawford and one of his colleagues founded the Brain-Drone Racing League, an event held at the University of Florida in which students compete to move UAVs using the strength of beta and gamma waves generated by the brain while wearing specially designed headbands rather than EEG caps. To produce the necessary intensity of brain waves for the headbands’ sensors to detect them, the student racers perform challenging mental arithmetic. Their aptitude for maintaining focus and blocking out distractions (such as the noise from the UAVs, spectators and other teams) typically contributes to the strength of their brain waves and hence their craft’s performance. Practical implementations of the technology might still be some way off, but they could one day enable operations in highly dynamic, non-routine situations that cannot be plotted or monitored in real time in a GCS. Now, here’s a thing “ ” April/May 2022 | Unmanned Systems Technology One possibility is a system that consists of a sensor-equipped pilot looking at a computer screen with shapes on it that correspond to UAV movements