Thought-controlled helicopter

Think of clenching your right fist. A nimble 14-ounce helicopter flies right. Imagine clenching your left fist. The chopper veers left. Think of clenching both fists, and it ascends vertically.

This remarkable helicopter-control system is the work of a group of scientists at the University of Minnesota led by engineering professor Bin He. What sets it apart is that controlling its flight requires absolutely no actual movement for the pilot—no button-pushing or throttle-pulling. Instead of a conventional remote, users control the vehicle with a EEG (electroencephalography) cap studded with 64 electrodes, which detect electrical activity in different parts of the brain near the scalp, effectively reading their minds.

The system, first demonstrated in April and now fully described in an article published today in the Journal of Neural Engineering, is part of the burgeoning study of brain-computer interfaces—direct communication pathways between brains and computerized or robotic devices. In recent years, scientists have created mind-controlled robotics that can feed someone chocolate or help them drink coffee, but this is the first instance of a flight vehicle controlled entirely by thought.

The system relies upon previous EEG and other neurological research by the team, which identified which activity patterns in the brain correlated with thoughts such as “make a fist with your right hand” and “make a fist with both hands.” These sorts of movement-oriented thoughts occur mostly in the motor cortex, an area of the brain responsible for control of the body. The EEG cap is sensitive enough only to detect activity relatively close to the scalp—which is where the motor cortex is located—so the scientists were able to program their EEG software to distinguish between these relevant thought patterns in particular.

As a result, when the system senses one of the specified thoughts, it converts the thought (“make a fist with my right hand”) into a command for the helicopter (“turn right”) and then sends the signal to the vehicle over Wi-Fi. With that, voilà: a thought-controlled helicopter. Continue reading



Additional reading

News category: Features.

Tags: , , , , , , ,