A potential use for brain computer interface technology: Remote-controlled rescue drones

Recently a story broke out across some mainstream media channels about a very interesting “toy” project that’s being funded through kickstarter.com.  In essence, it’s a simple spherical-shaped helicopter that the average person can control with a simple brain-computer interface device.  What makes this product more interesting than normal however (aside from the whole “using your brain to directly control its flight path”, of course), is the fact that there’s much more to this release than a company selling a novel toy.

According to the company that created the recently branded “orbit” helicopter, there is a slight ulterior motive at play here.  Yes, the product/concept’s creator, a San Francisco-based company called Puzzlebox is also planning on releasing all of their technical data about this device to the general public.  That’s right, this isn’t simply an attempt to sell a cool gadget; it’s also about open-sourcing this technology to the general public.

Well, needless to say, this is a very interesting turn of events.  It’s extremely refreshing to see a company develop such a relatively simple and affordable product that’s might be essentially cheap enough to be considered ‘accessible’ by the general public.  Simply put, if brain-computer interface technology is to truly move forward, bringing it into an open-source market might just be one of the best and most efficient ways of developing the technology further.  There’s great inherent power in technological collectivism, which is perhaps exactly why this move might propel the technology forward much faster than anticipated.

This of course gives rise to a number of potential (yet somewhat practical) uses for brain-computer interface devices which we might soon see.  For example, we might soon see: Remote-controlled rescue drones in the skies above us.
Given that brain-computer interface-controlled mini helicopters are becoming available, it’s only a small jump in logic to assume that the technology will be improved upon by someone at some point in the near future (perhaps a competitor).  From there, it’s only a matter of aligning the use of these types of devices with that of conventional drone technology; of the likes which government and military use for various purposes.  For instance, in the US, highway engineering specialists and even traffic control operators in some states are using smaller, more conventional drones to help them with their duties.  With small video cameras attached, the operator flies a small drone high above a highway or area where one is under construction, so that they might be able to gain a greater understanding of the topography of the area.

It’s a very simple, easy and conventional way to gain access to a “big picture view”, there’s no question about that.  But what makes the use of drones so great is that they’re infinitely more affordable and accessible than say, a conventional helicopter.  Needless to say, just putting a ‘chopper’ is not cheap, and given the financial strains that local, city, regional and state governments are dealing with, it’s unclear whether or not they can even afford to put one in the air if faced with multiple emergencies.  Likewise, for those who live in areas where major natural disasters seem to be becoming a facet of everyday life, you can only depend on conventional technologies up to a certain point (i.e. – one helicopter cannot save everyone simultaneously, can it?).

When you combine the notion that small, affordable drones are now on the market with the idea that we seem to be moving toward implementing open-sourced brain-computer interface technology, an interesting notion emerges.  Why couldn’t we simply integrate the two concepts and bring remote-controlled rescue drone technology to the masses?  Just think about it, whenever there’s a major disaster (manmade or naturally occurring), we could quickly have multiple drones up in the air (piloted by virtually anyone) scanning for survivors and those in need of medical assistance.  All in all, it’s a much more cost-effective approach to saving lives while at the same time reducing the strain on fiscal budgets.

Implementing brain-computer interface technology in rescue situations might only the tip of the iceberg, however.  Just let your creative side run wild for a minute, think about the various ways that we might pair remote-controlled devices with a brain-computer interface.  It’s entirely possible that the same concept could be applied to something like oceanographic studies as well.  Just think about how beneficial the use of such devices like this might be in the hands of scientists who are trying to study some of the more inaccessible parts of the ocean, for instance.  Needless to say, we live in very interesting times indeed.

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