Helicopter Flies with Power of the Human Brain: Thought Controls Flying Robot (Video)

First Posted: Jun 05, 2013 11:15 AM EDT

Ever wanted to control something with only the power of your thought? It turns out you can. Researchers have created a helicopter that can be flown with the force of a human's brain.

The helicopter doesn't look like anything special when you first see it. It appears to be a simple, remote controlled toy--perhaps like the ones you see being shown off in shopping malls. Yet this helicopter is far more complicated than it appears. It's actually programmed to receive signals from a cap that's fitted with 64 electrodes and which processes signals from a person's brain.

In order to test the device, the scientists had five people attempt to control the small, four-blade helicopter. They fitted each person with the cap that recorded the electrical activity of their thoughts. The volunteers were then asked to face away from the helicopter and imagine using their right hand, left hand and both hands together in order to control the device. This would signal to the machine that it should either turn right, left, lift and then fall, respectively. Each person was positioned in front of a screen which relayed the images of the helicopter's flight so that they could see where they were flying the machine.

"Our study showed that for the first time, humans are able to control the flight of flying robots using just their thoughts, sensed from noninvasive brain waves," said lead author Bin He in a news release. "In previous work we showed that humans could control a virtual helicopter using just their thoughts."

With a bit of practice, the participants were able to fly the helicopter through two foam rings suspended from a gymnasium ceiling. In order to actually quantify the data, the researchers applied a number of statistical tests in order to see how each person performed.

The fact that the volunteers performed so well has exciting implications for brain-computer interface. It could hold enormous implications for creating devices that are meant to assist, augment or repair human cognitive or sensory-motor functions.

"Our next goal is to control robotic arms using noninvasive brain wave signals, with the eventual goal of developing brain-computer interfaces that aid patients with disabilities or neurodegenerative disorders," said He in a news release.

The findings are published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

Want to see the helicopter for yourself? You can check it out in the clip below, courtesy of Youtube and the University of Minnesota.

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