Mind over matter: USF to host its first Brain-Drone Race

The event takes place from 1-4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Yuengling Center’s Corral Gymnasium.
Published February 7
Updated February 7

Drone pilots typically propel their aircraft by making delicate course corrections by hand. But this weekend, students at the University of South Florida will show the public how they can fly drones using only their mind.

More than a dozen students will compete in the university’s inaugural Brain-Drone Race in collaboration with the Brain-Drone Racing League, a governing group created to set standards and help organize more races for the emerging sport.

Students will race each other to determine who can make their drone go the farthest.

How is it done? Through brain-computer interface technology.

RELATED: Watch a USF student control a drone using brain waves

First, competitors wear electronic headbands, known as electroencephalography systems (EEG), which capture electrical brain signals. Those signals are then translated into commands that prompt the drones to move based on a specific thought.

“When you imagine a movement, your brain produces the same electrical activity as if you were performing the movement with your muscles,” Marvin Andujar, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering at USF, said in a release statement.

“For drone-racing, we have our pilots imagine they’re pushing an object forward,” he said. “Then, we capture that signal, classify it and send the information to the drone, which has already been programmed to move when it receives that data.”

Andujar previously led a University of Florida group that started the competition in 2016, and he organized this event, which will include teams from the United Kingdom, Japan and Brazil, as well as teams from across the U.S.

USF hopes brain-drone racing can not only introduce students to the sport, but also spur further interest and research in neurotechnology.

The university invites the public to watch the races for free from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 9) at the Yuengling Center’s Corral Gymnasium, 4202 E Fowler Ave. Guests still need to register to attend on eventbrite.com.

Contact Monique Welch at mwelch@tampabay.com or Follow Mo_UNIQUE_.

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