Mind-control has slowly but surely made its way from the realm of sci-fi to the real world. Now researchers have taken it a step further, building a flying machine that is controlled by the operator’s thoughts. The technology may one day lead to improved prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs.
In a demonstration of the system, five participants at the University of Minnesota strapped on a sensor-studded EEG cap and put their thoughts to work. The cap recorded their brain activity and transferred it to a computer that translated the activity into directions for the robotic quadcopter. Watching video from a camera onboard the copter, the five participants successfully maneuvered the vehicle to specific targets over 90 percent of the time. The quadcopter wasn’t moving very quickly (about two feet per second) but participants were able to navigate up, down, and through hoops.
The thoughts required to operate the copter are pretty simple. To turn the drone right, imagine yourself making a fist with your right hand; a left turn is a left-hand fist. To make the flying robot go up, think about making fists with both hands at the same time.
Although brain-computer interfaces have been around for a while, this was the first system to allow such fine-tuned control without inserting a chip into the user’s brain, the researchers say in a paper published yesterday in the Journal of Neural Engineering. The non-invasive technology may one day help stroke victims and people with neurodegenerative diseases interact with the physical world through thoughts alone.
Video courtesy of the University of Minnesota