The U.S. military has invented a brain implant which allows a human operator to control simultaneously with their thoughts, up to three flying drones.

The tests supervised by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), were computer simulations. And while they might ultimately lead to actual mind control for flying robots, the technology is still in the stage of development.

The mind-controlled drone test took place in Pittsburgh between June 2016 and January 2017, as stated by DARPA. “Using a bidirectional neural interface, a volunteer named Nathan Copeland was capable to steer a simulated lead aircraft concurrently and maintain formation of two, simulated unmanned support aircraft in a flight simulator.

Test-subject Copeland directed his idea through a medical implant embedded in his skull, that used electroencephalogram, the same process doctors use to diagnose epilepsy, to connect with a computer simulation of a drone that directs an obstacle course in the company of two robotic wingmen.

Mind-controlled drones

The technology could one day lead to a direct interface between human operators and robots. Approximately controlling a drone is possible today.

Thought-controlled drones have been in development for years. In February 2015, DARPA reported that a volunteer called Jan Scheuermann, a quadriplegic had flown a simulated F-35 stealth fighter using her perception.

DARPA’s Pittsburgh research improved on the previous technology. The signals from those aircraft can be delivered directly back to the brain so that the brain of that user can also perceive the environment, Justin Sanchez said.

A special code in Copeland’s brain implant converted certain thoughts to the code that the drone can understand. “This training process aids the computer in finding brain patterns that relate to specific cognitive commands.

In turn, the drone can scan its environment, observe an obstacle to its right, and beam back to the operator its own suggestion.

But there are clear-cut limits to the technology. “With today’s technology, it is only feasible for a user to connect with one drone at a time”, Juan Gilbert, the University of Florida professor who oversaw the 2016 Mind-Controlled Drone Race.

“If it reliably works, the drone-brain interface would have profound implications”, Christopher Jacobson told the public radio.

Watch a video of mind controlled drones: