Using Brainwave Patterns for Robot Control

Harness, Christopher, Viken Yeranosian, and Mohan Krishnan

There is increasing work being done in interpreting the brain’s electrical activity to initiate physical action. In this area of endeavor, two potential applications are: aiding physically disabled individuals throughout their daily activities and controlling objects through thought processes, as seen in popular science fiction franchises such as Star Wars and X-Men.

A significant breakthrough in the recent past has been the emergence of low-cost headsets that acquire, pre-process, and make available Electroencephalography (EEG) signals in a non-invasive manner. One such headset is the Neurosky Mindwave EEG headset that collects and transmits information pertaining to brain activity using the wireless Bluetooth protocol. This study reports on a basic investigation to determine whether controlled patterns of brain activity can be used in a consistent manner, to control the height at which a simple hobbyist-type drone quad copter hovers. Brain waves can be broadly categorized, based on the activity into three main frequency ranges: Alpha waves (8 – 12 Hz) correspond to a relaxed or meditative state, Beta waves (12 – 38 Hz) to normal wakeful cognitive activity, and Gamma waves (38 – 42 Hz) to enhanced consciousness.

This study involved several phases: i) reliable extraction of the brain signal; ii) investigation of the ability of a person to exercise adequate thought discipline to put out a tightly clustered brain activity; iii) synthesis of the electronic systems to map the thought pattern to an appropriate control action on the drone. The implementation of these phases will help evaluate the effectiveness of the Mindwave headset and the attendant reliability of the use of brain signals to initiate consistent physical action.