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Scientists control helicopter - using only their minds

Next stop: hoverboards (possibly).

Image: University of Minnesota

IF YOU EVER spent hours as a kid trying to move a pencil or a book in your bedroom using only your thoughts, prepare to have your mind blown.

Researchers at a US university have managed to move a robot helicopter using only their mind in the first successful study of its kind.

Five researchers were each able to control the four blade flying robot – known as a quadcopter – quickly and accurately for a sustained period of time while wearing a skull cap.  The skull cap recorded electrical activity in the brain through 64 electrodes.

“It’s completely noninvasive. Nobody has to have a chip implanted in their brain to pick up on the neuronal activity,” said Karl LaFleur, one of the authors of the study, which has been published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

The team of biomedical engineers at the University of Minnesota say that aside from the obvious implications for fun, the flying robot could potentially help people who are paralysed or have diseases which affect their cognitive functions.

“We envision that they’ll be able to use this technology to control wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other devices,” said Bin He, a professor at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study.

The team said that the brain-controlled robot was possible due to the motor cortex – the area of the brain that governs movement and which produces tiny electric currents when we move or think about moving. During the study, subjects had to fly the quadcopter through two large rings after going through some preliminary training sessions.

Bin He said that the study had the potential to help many people.

“It may even help patients with conditions like autism or Alzheimer’s disease or help stroke victims recover,” he said. “We’re now studying some stroke patients to see if it’ll help rewire brain circuits to bypass damaged areas.”


(Video: UniversityofMinn/YouTube)

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