Think you can fly? Now you can with a thought controlled quadrocopter

University of Minnesota researchers develop a thought-controlled drone. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Kevin Lee (TechHive (US))
  • 06 June, 2013 12:46

Quadrocopters are cool, but mind controlled quadrocopters are way cooler. In a feat of engineering that could have come straight out of Iron Man 3, University of Minnesota (UM) researchers have figured out how to control quadrocopters with their freaking minds.

A team of scientists led by biomedical engineering professor Bin He developed a thought-reading interface that's completely noninvasive (which means it doesn't require and computer chips applied directly to your brain--yay). This isn't just sci-fi; the research team has a working system that you can use to control a Parrot AR drone.

The scientists developed a brain reading device that looks more like a funny hat fitted with 64 electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors. The EEG cap picks up brainwaves from your motor cortex (the part of the cerebellum that controls movement). From there, a computer translates your brain signals into flight control commands that are transmitted to the drone via Wi-Fi.

Graduate students Karl LaFleur and Alexu Doud, who both worked on the project, said thati magining yourself making a fist with your left hand turns the drone to the right. Thinking of closing both hands causes the drone to fly upwards. (I can only imagine what flailing your arms will make it do.)

The biggest step for this research project, however, is that the completely noninvasive system can control a physical object. The researchers say that this research could help people with disabilities or various neurodegenerative diseases to regain their mobility and independence.

University of MinnesotaBrad Edelman wears the electroencephalogram hat.

"[Researchers elsewhere] have used a chip implanted into the brain's motor cortex to drive movement of a cursor [across a screen] or a robotic arm," Bin He, a professor in the College of Science and Engineering at UM, said in a release. "But here we have proof that a noninvasive [3-D brain-computer interfaces or] BCI from a scalp EEG can do as well as an invasive chip."

Previously we've only seen brain-controlled gadgets work with software and games. Drones, however, could just be the beginning for thought-controlled devices. The technology could eventually lead to mind-manipulated wheelchairs, artificial limbs, or other devices.

In the team's trials, five students were able to fly the drone easily after a series of training exercises. Meanwhile, a sixth test pilot was able to just sit down and fly the thing without any preparation. This suggests that that the system is intuitive enough for some people to just pick up and use.

If you want to read more on the study to fly drones with your mind, you can check out the paper as published in the Journal of Neuro Engineering.

[University of Minnesota]

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