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Monday, June 10, 2013

Flying a helicopter with your mind

Okay, it’s only a toy helicopter. Still, the fact that Bin He and his team from the University of Minnesota have been able to put a remote-controlled quadcopter through its aerial paces using only the power of their thoughts is pretty amazing.

Five subjects, which the researchers specifically describe as ‘human’ in case you were wondering, were trained to move a cursor on a screen by imagining that they were squeezing one or both of their fists. They then used the same techniques to control first a virtual quadcopter and then a real one. All five participants were successful in making the robot fly in a chosen direction, including through rings. 

While controlling toys with your mind might be cool, the researchers are really looking forward to using their technique to help paralyzed people control every day electronic objects. The key thing about this technology is that it’s completely non-invasive, meaning that it does not require any surgical implants. You do have to wear the funny electroencephalogram bonnet though.

You can see the a clip of the experiments below:

In case it isn’t clear from the video, the controller is facing away from the quadcopter. A camera mounted on the quadcopter gives the subject a first person view on his computer monitor. 

LaFleur, K., Cassady, K., Doud, A., Shades, K., Rogin, E., & He, B. (2013). Quadcopter control in three-dimensional space using a noninvasive motor imagery-based brain–computer interface Journal of Neural Engineering, 10 (4) DOI: 10.1088/1741-2560/10/4/046003.

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