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How to Fly a Model Helicopter Using Only Your Thoughts

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Courtesy of the University of Minnesota

For decades, scientists have been developing brain-computer linkages they hope will enable people to manipulate objects hands free. Duke neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis reported a few years ago that a monkey fitted with implanted electrodes could use its brainpower to control the walking patterns of a robot . Less invasive, more commercial efforts include electroencephalalography (EEG) headsets that let players control video games via neural signals .

Now a team of University of Minnesota biomedical engineers has demonstrated the ability to fly a remote-controlled helicopter through hoops simply by thinking about different hand gestures. The person navigating the four-blade helicopter—also known as a quadcopter—wears an EEG cap laden with 64 electrodes, which detect electric currents produced by neurons in the brain’s motor cortex. The electrodes send signals to a computer, which translates the signal pattern into a command that is then sent to the helicopter via Wi-Fi.

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota

As the researchers explain in the video below, they asked subjects to imagine, for example, making a fist with their right hand to make the aircraft turn to the right. If the subjects imagined making a fist with both hands, the aircraft rose. Their research was published Tuesday in IOP Publishing’s Journal of Neural Engineering.

The ultimate goal of all these brain-computer interface efforts is to develop robotic prosthetics that can help restore the autonomy of paralyzed patients or those suffering from neurodegenerative disorders, says Bin He, a University of Minnesota professor of biomedical engineering. He adds: “We envision they will use this technology to help control wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other devices.”

 

Larry Greenemeier About the Author: Larry Greenemeier is the associate editor of technology for Scientific American, covering a variety of tech-related topics, including biotech, computers, military tech, nanotech and robots. Follow on Twitter @lggreenemeier.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. jtdwyer 9:02 pm 06/4/2013

    What happens when you sneeze?

    Link to this
  2. 2. gesimsek 5:12 pm 06/5/2013

    I believe this technology was already in use for military jet pilot helmets

    Link to this

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